The recipe for joyful gardening starts with dreaming and planning. Then, like a fine meal, preparation and quality ingredients are the keys to success. Work can become play by understanding how to simplify garden maintenance. The actual joy comes from loving care put into a garden and reaping the fruits of your labor: beauty and delight to feed your soul, flowers to grace your table, good food, fresh air, sunshine, and weight-bearing exercise to keep you healthy.
Dream and Plan
Think about what you love, what you wish you could have, what you wish you could get rid of, and what problems you would like to solve. Thoughtful bed placement and design can help to reduce maintenance. Trellises, shrubs, and focal points show off a garden just as beautiful tableware, centerpieces, and candles enhance a dining experience. The more beautiful the garden, the more fun it is to work in. Site the garden in a place of prominence: near an entrance or as the focal point for a window in your most used room so that you are drawn to take care of the garden. Include good access with paths or stepping stones to make it comfortable to work. Make the beds a minimum of six to eight feet deep to give garden plants enough room and reduce competition from lawn edges.
Simplify maintenance by starting with a well-prepared weed-free bed. For new garden beds, kill or remove sod at least two weeks before planting. Till or fork three to six inches of organic matter into the soil to remediate droughty or clay soils and to build nutrient levels. Once the soil has been worked, allow weed seeds to germinate for 7 to 10 days. Then scrape through the bed to chop off their heads. This process, called staling the soil, helps to reduce future weeds. Be careful to only work the soil when its friable to avoid compacting it. To determine if your soil is friable, squeeze a handful. If it crumbles into granules, its friable and you can start bed prep; if it becomes a mud ball, then wait for the area to dry out.
If you already have a garden full of weeds, now might be the perfect time to renovate. Salvage what you like, dig and divide (if needed), and pot up or heel in the plants you want to keep until you are ready to replant. Then clean the slate with the same bed prep as if you were starting from scratch.
Plants and Planting
Choosing the right plant for the right place is a key ingredient to success. Match your plants to their needed sun exposure and soil moisture. Happy plants hold their own space and can outcompete weeds. Limit your plant selections to plants with good foliage and long seasonal interest, and plant in groups so that its easier to identify weeds. Plan to plant in the spring or fall to reduce the need for watering.
If you are using transplants, gently clean to bare root by dividing and teasing roots apart so that you can find and eliminate perennial weed and grass roots. Place divisions in a bucket of water with a dash of fertilizer to reduce transplant shock. Then plant directly into prepared beds or pot excess plants to share with friends and family.
Love and Care
To reap the rewards of gardening, you have to make time to love and care for your garden. Aligning with the natural rhythms of the season can make garden chores a pleasure. Start in March, when the snow is melted, by cutting back old plant growth and looking for signs of spring. Spend a few moments in April looking at what is coming up in the garden and popping out dandelions and other visible weeds. After your plants are up and growing in May, quickly eliminate germinating weeds with a thorough, shallow hoeing between the garden plants. Applying an organic weed and feed (corn gluten) by scraping it into the soil followed by a light application of mulch in early June will control 85 percent of the weeds for the rest of the season. Spot weed, deadhead, and dead leaf to stimulate healthy new growth throughout and relax through the heat of the season. In the fall, clean up diseased or ugly foliage and plant bulbs. Then dream some more over the winter. The true joy of gardening is imbibing and sharing the bounty and beauty of nature.
Joan W. Ziegler is a horticulturist, garden designer, and winner of the 2015 Perennial Plant Association Merit Award for Residential Landscape Design for ZDA, Inc. Landscape Architecture, 4797 Capitol View Road, Middleton. Call (608) 831-5098 or visit zdainc.com .