This article continues the discussion of saving time and labor in your garden. Considering hired help and rethinking tools and garden equipment can save time and labor. Other ways to do things easier and faster involve low maintenance design the approach to maintenance.
The simplest change is to get rid of the plants in your yard that require work year after year. This includes messy trees like podded honey locust, black walnut and Siberian elm. Replace these trees with medium to small trees that don’t have messy fruits needing to be raked and seeds that sprout everywhere. Other plants to replace are those requiring repeated pruning like formal hedges. Replace these plants with low- to moderate-sized shrubs with natural shapes that require no regular pruning. Plant fruit trees only if you want to take the time to prune, pick and use the fruit produced.
Fill beds around trees and shrubs with groundcover. In areas usually planted with annuals, use flowering perennials that provide seasonal color and need only a quick clean-up once or twice a year. Pick new plants with an eye to mature size and freedom from pests and diseases that are common to our area, making them easy care. Any area that fills with weeds year after year can be mulched and judicious use of pre-emergent weed control will keep weeds at bay. Consider creating a native plant area with natural grasses, shrubs and trees that require less water and care. Let out-of-the-way areas of your yard stay in unwatered drought-tolerant grassy groundcover and trim them with the weed eater periodically.
Eliminate high maintenance areas like vegetable gardens and rock gardens. Large pots can hold favorite vegetables and easy care rock gardens in containers are an attractive focal point on a deck or patio.
If you water with hoses, you may want to add an automatic sprinkler system to eliminate hours of work. You will also save water by applying water only to the lawn or beds and using only what the plants require.
Lawns require inputs, such as water, fertilizer and weed control. Even if you scrimp on those aspects, the lawn still requires time to mow. Why not replace lawn areas with carefree patios, walkways, groundcovers and shrub beds? Materials can be as simple as gravel or natural stone, or as complicated as constructed brickwork. By reducing lawn area and choosing the right plants for bed areas, time and labor savings will be substantial.
Even with help, some new equipment and changes to the approach and design of your yard, there will be work to be done. Begin with the most severe and demanding jobs needing immediate attention. Often these are tasks like destroying the weeds that are about to go to seed or picking up fallen fruit before it begins to rot. Move from the most severe and, when time allows, go on to something else. Don’t bother with tasks that “could” be done.
When time and energy are limited, do only a part of the job at a time. There is no reason why the entire front yard must be weeded at once when one section at a time gets you to the same end. Another concept is to deal with different areas or beds in the yard in different years. Trim, pick up dead leaves, remove or add plants and replace mulch to one area and then only do necessary maintenance in that area for the next two or three years. Reworking one limited area at a time makes good use of your time and effort.
The final time- and labor-saving concept is one that I discovered in the book “Gardening for a Lifetime: How to Garden Wiser as you Grow Older” by Sydney Eddison. Her ideas included many of the above concepts, and are applicable not only to gardeners growing older but those changing priorities. I reached the section on garden expectations and read: “be content with less than perfection”. Slaving away in your yard and garden to get everything pruned, weeded, arranged and “just right” requires extra time and labor. Changing your mindset to “good enough” isn’t easy, but can be a real time and labor saver. Let a few things go in your yard, and use the time saved to accomplish a different goal.