By Sean Conway
The secret to good gardening is timing. My advice to those who feel overwhelmed by the work that needs to be done in their gardens is to start by making a list. Just as the secret to cooking a holiday meal for a big family gathering requires some planning and a good grocery list, so too does a successful garden.
The trick to keeping your garden looking good is to get a jump on the maintenance early in the season rather than trying to catch up later on. Here are a few tips to help you get ahead of things this spring.
1. Weed all your beds early. Weeds in general can be divided into two groups: cool season weeds and warm season weeds. Cool season weeds are already in full swing. Devote time to removing them early before they set seed and you will have less work in the future.
2. After beds are weeded either keep the soil cultivated on a regular basis to prevent new seed from germinating (a few minutes of cultivating the soil each week will save hours of weed pulling later on) or apply 2 to 3 inches of mulch as soon as the weeding is done.
3. Cut a 3- to 4-inch edge into garden beds surrounded by lawn. Providing a sharp, deep edge will keep grass from infiltrating into your beds and save you hours of weeding later in the season. It also makes your gardens look neater.
4. Apply fertilizer now to perennials while plants are still emerging but not yet fully grown. Place the fertilizer around the base of each plant where it is needed. Applying it early makes the job easier and much more efficient. I prefer to use organic fertilizers so I don't have to worry about burning tender new growth.
5. Weed your vegetable garden early in the season before turning the soil over. This will keep weed seed from being dispersed into the soil. This is especially helpful for cool season weeds that set seed very early.
6. Apply aged manure or compost to your vegetable garden before turning the soil over. This makes it easier to see how much you have applied (especially with manure).
7. Plant perennials as early as possible. Even if they don't look like much when you purchase them, they will establish much better in cool weather than they will later in the season. The same holds true for transplanting and dividing perennials; those done earlier will look better later.
8. When buying plants from the garden center, bigger is not always better. Look for sturdy young plants that are not pot bound. Avoid buying annuals that already have flowers. They will take longer to get established. If you have no choice, then cut off the flowers when you plant them so the plants put their energy into establishing roots.
9. In beds with stubborn weeds, put a layer of newspaper down then mulch over the top. The newspaper will help smother the weeds, preventing them from growing up through the mulch. Over time the newspaper will rot away. This is also a good tip for creating new beds in grassy areas. Apply the newspaper and mulch several months prior to planting.
10. Repair dead spots in lawns early by removing debris, scratching soil and applying seed while temperatures are still cool and there is adequate moisture in the ground. Grass seed will establish faster before hot weather arrives.
These tips may not eliminate my spring garden chores completely, but they help me from falling behind early in the season.
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