By Gary Jones
Relaxing outdoor living can be a breeze when you plan and plant well. Follow these simple rules and techniques to have a “party-ready” garden all summer long — with little care and minimal effort.
Still on your knees weeding your garden? That is old school. Let pre-emergents weed for you. Broadcast Preen or Amaze over all exposed soil areas where weeds typically flourish. It will stop weed and grass seeds before they germinate. It is especially effective over groundcovers or difficult-to-weed areas since it will not burn or affect existing foliage or plants. However, it will not kill existing weeds. Using a pre-emergent will save hours of work.
Plant compact plants
Many of today’s trees and shrubs in garden centers have been bred to be tidy and compact. This saves you from having to shape unruly or encroaching branches. Wheeler’s Dwarf pittosporum is currently the top-selling shrub in Southern California. Ask your garden center expert to point out other compact, space-saving plants for you.
Tidy is nice
Just as you expect children to clean up after themselves, plants should too. Flowering shrubs and perennials that cleanly drop spent flowers shorten the list of garden tasks. Shrub roses such as Knock Out bloom like crazy but quickly shed old petals, eliminating the need to deadhead. Lilacs do too, as do lots of other shrubs and perennials. Ask your nursery professional for suggestions.
Timed-release fertilizers such as Osmocote can save a lot of time and effort. Most feed for three to four months at a time, reducing feeding times to just twice a year. Another alternative is to use E.B. Stone organic foods. They release nutrients slowly, feeding at a rate that the plant can use. You will not get lots of soft, new growth that needs lots of water to support, nor will you need to stake or prune.
Just about everyone and everything multitasks in our world, so gardens should too. Choose plants with year-round interest such as flowers, colorful foliage, seedpods and berries. Many edible plants can be highly decorative too — filling several needs at once. Blueberries are a great example: gorgeous spring flowers, beautiful tasty berries and colorful fall foliage.
Choose annuals for loads of color. They will not stop blooming until late fall. That is called “once and done” planting. Check out the latest versions of old favorites like petunias, marigolds, begonias and impatiens.
Save watering time
A lot of time can be saved with an automatic sprinkler system, of course, but it is often containers that need frequent watering attention. Consider using water-holding polymers such as Soil Moist which can reduce your watering by half. Or better yet, install a simple do-it-yourself drip system.
Mulching reduces gardening time in several ways: weeding, watering and disease prevention. A thick layer applied after planting will last all summer long and will save time and money. It also prevents soil-borne diseases from moving around the garden and up into plants.
Gary Jones is chief horticulturist at Armstrong Garden Centers. Email your gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact your local Armstrong Garden Center.