You can have the garden of your dreams with these simple steps for your easiest garden ever, whether its vegetables, flowers - or preferably, both! Getting these steps right will mean less maintenance and more time to enjoy your yard.
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I've written quite a bit about how you can design your gardens for easy care, because I'm passionate about letting people know that you can have beautiful garden spaces without hours and hours of work each week during the season.
In fact, I wrote an ebook that collects all my best easy-care gardening tips in one place for you to make it simple.
However if you have a lot of those garden spaces like I did, I'm not going to lie - you may very well be spending hours on them.
But (whew, there's a "but!") if you use the following nine simple steps to your easiest garden ever, those hours spent on maintenance will be only once or twice a season instead of weekly or monthly.
And of course, you can take to heart my #2 tip below to keep your garden spaces small and you may not spend hours at all!
You'll spend just enough time digging in the dirt to make you feel great, and the rest of the time enjoying your flowers and vegetables.
Either way, these steps will make sure you have less weeds, less watering, less fussing - and more enjoying, which is the goal, right?
9 Steps To Your Easiest Garden Ever
1. Observe Your Space
Use your garden notebook or other notebook to record:
- Sun patterns. Know the areas of sun, shade, partial sun/shade and the type of sun (i.e., hot western afternoon sun is harsher for plants than cooler morning sun). Plants that need full sun will require 6-8 hours of sunshine daily, partial sun is usually 4-6 hours.
- Water needs. Figure out which areas are dry (under eaves and large trees), moist (near water) or hot (like those afternoon sun spots). Also, make a note of where your water sources are and start your gardens as close as possible or plant to extend them.
2. Start Small & Draw a Simple Plan
Use the graph paper included in the Garden Notebook or grab some you have and start planning based on your observations.
- Choose only 2-4 areas to start your garden, preferably close to your house so you can see the needs and benefit from the increased beauty.
Example: One to two raised beds (about 4x6 or 4x8) for vegetables and one to two areas for planting flowers you can enjoy or cut for arrangements.
- Sketch your basic ideas - a rough sketch is perfectly okay - including what type of hardscaping you'd like (paths, arbors, raised beds, etc.).
Use your observations on your sun patterns to plan where to grow sun-loving vegetables and shade-loving plants.
3. Pick the Right Plants
- Think about the eventual size and plant accordingly for shrubs, flowers, trees, and perennial fruits. This may be the #1 thing that is difficult for any gardener - beginner or not!
Most plants just look so small when you place them in your new bed and all you see is an expanse of dirt.
DON'T be tempted to plant closer together to fill the space - you will thank me later (unless you want to spend a lot of time pruning and cutting back). I speak from learned experience, because I didn't listen, a-hem. Sometimes it's okay to plant closer with flowering perennials, because they often need dividing at a future point anyway, but definitely keep to spacing with shrubs, trees, evergreens, and perennial fruits.
You can fill the empty space with annuals if you want, but take to heart the full size measurements that will be listed on the plant tag or seed packet (or do a search if you are given plants).
- Choose plants according to your areas sun and water needs. Good thing you spent some time observing, right?
- Research plants that are easy care. Do they reseed invasively? Or grow too big, need lots of cutting back, etc.? See this list for some of my favorite easy care shrubs and perennials.
- Plant in multiples of three or five. I don't hold firm to the garden wisdom that the plants all need to be planted together, but I do like to see plants repeated throughout a space. It provides nice repetition- and makes it easier to plan.
TIP: don't think of evergreen trees and shrubs as boring - think of them as the backbone of the garden, providing a nice backdrop to seasonal flowers and some winter interest. My favorites are boxwood, dwarf Alberta spruce, and arborvitae.
4. Lay the Foundation
Plan the foundation of your area before planting any new gardens. You don't have to have it all actually done before planting, but planning these out will help you know where you want to start. Think about:
- Paths. Plan where and what type (gravel, flagstone, bark, etc.)
- Patios, decks or other hardscaping. Think about where you want outdoor living areas and how they'll connect to the house.
- Arbors and other wood and vertical structures. We love to make a simple garden gate pretty - and useful - with a simple arbor to hold flowering plants or grapes.
- Other needs like hose guides and tool and hose storage. We don't want our planting mowed down by the hose and grabbing tools and buckets need to be convenient if they are to happen regularly. In the picture above of our cottage's backyard makeover, you can see how we designed permanent wood guides close to our main spigot.
Hose storage can be a wall hook, hose bowl, or other similar set up. Above is a photo of the simple wooden box we built to hold our hose from scrap lumber.
I love it because there's no fighting with a winder or too-small holder. It seriously was one of my favorite garden DIYs since I used it almost daily in the warmer months.
5. Build Simple Raised Beds
- Raised beds are probably the best way to an easy care garden. They can be made high or low and from almost any type of product - wood, cement, rocks, and even just mounded soil.
- Think about low raised beds for flower gardens, as well as vegetables. They make edging, weeding, feeding, and harvesting a breeze.
- Purchase soil and compost from a landscape company to fill your beds. You can also layer: cardboard on the bottom, manure next, then soil, and finish with a layer of compost.
6. Grow Only What you Love or Fills a Need
- Have an eyesore area? Find an evergreen to cover it.
- What are your favorite flowers? Favorite colors? Stick to these and you will enjoy your new garden more than if you planted what someone else tells you to grow.
- For vegetable beds grow only what your family will eat and love. Also think about what is harder to get at stores (tender lettuce), easy to grow (peas & beans) or where the home-grown version is tastiest (tomatoes comes to mind, which is probably why it's the #1 home grown vegetable/fruit!).
7. Cover All Bare Spaces with Mulch
This is the biggest easy-care tip that pretty much changed the way I gardened! Eliminate constant weeding by covering bare areas with paper and a mulch. In the flower garden, use pretty dark compost, in the vegetable garden it can be straw or wood chips. Just cover any areas you won't be growing in and your gardening life will be so much better!
Here's how to paper and mulch:
- Start with a layer of paper (either layers of newspaper or brown paper, or even thicker cardboard for areas you won't be planting in) and lay it all around any plants you've added and cover all bare areas.
- Cover with a fully finished garden compost, pine straw, or other available material for a mulch. We prefer a darker, soil-looking commercial compost for our garden areas, since it looks cool, clean and tidy when applied - and feeds the soil as it breaks down (pictured above). Add a good 1-2" layer, but leave the area around the plants (about 2-3" around) to make sure they don't smother.
- See this video for more details of this technique that saves us hours of weeding each season.
Bonus: If you use compost that feeds the soil as it breaks down, you shouldn't have to fertilize or add anything more to your flower and shrub beds - ever. Vegetables will need a bit more, based on their growing needs, but it, too, will be less.
8. Use Soaker Hoses or Drip Irrigation
- Lay soaker hoses (or drip irrigation) all through your beds. Then simply hook up your hose to the soaker end, turn the water on and let it soak for a few hours every 4-7 days, depending on your weather. No need to stand over each plant with a hose, which never provides enough water anyway, or water overhead, which is inefficient and helps to spread plant diseases like mildew.
- Use quick connect hose ends to make hooking your hose to the soakers a snap, literally.
- Drip irrigation takes a bit more time and money to set up, but it's more concentrated to each plant. After that it, too, is just a matter of hooking up your hose.
- Use a timer at the head of your hose to make watering even easier.
9. Enjoy Your Easiest Garden Ever
Because that's what it's all about!
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