By Howard Voland
If you’re like us, we can’t wait for the first nice days of spring to get out into the garden and finish our fall clean-up—we’re still working on the one for 2010.
Seriously, though, it’s lovely to be out in the garden this time of the year and see what is popping up everywhere. This year our peonies have been superb.
But sometime right around the first of June, reality hits. Our bodies are older, our lives seem more hectic, and April showers not only brought loads of May flowers but even more weeds.
And the garden suddenly seems twice as big as it was the week before, and all we want to do is go hiking and spend good times with family and friends and forget the garden, already. So here are some tips we’ve found helpful over the years.
Zone it! I’m not talking about light zones or watering zones, although both are pretty important, but about maintenance zones—high, medium, and low.
High maintenance areas are the ones by the front door or next to the deck. Places you’re going to see up close and personal all the time. The places you want to look the best and the places that will make you feel the best. Keep those areas as reasonably small as possible.
Medium maintenance areas are those further off. They’re the places where small weeds and flaws won’t show up from the windows or the deck. Work on them when they bother you from the deck, but not when you walk by unless you have the time and want to.
Low maintenance areas are those you don’t see from the house or are far enough away that the weeds are just more green stuff. Take
care of them just enough to keep the blackberries from taking over. Make these areas as large as reasonably possible.
Zoning your landscape this way adjusts your expectations downward. It’s not practical for most of us to keep our landscapes looking perfect all the time in all places, but if we keep that bed by the front door perfect and that view out the kitchen window looking great, we feel better about the whole yard all the time.
Right Plant, Right Place. We’ve all heard this one, but it really can save us a lot of time in the long run.
Pick plants that grow well in your yard and get rid of those that don’t. Be ruthless. No matter the cause, if a plant doesn’t do well it is going to take more effort on your part to nurse it along than it will be to replace it with something else. And on the plus side, we all like to shop for plants.
Perennials are wonderful, but know their growth habits. Fast growing ones will need to be divided and thinned more often, which means more work. Daylilies look their best if deadheaded daily when blooming. Slugs don’t eat Astilbe but they do love hostas, but Astilbe are heavy feeders while hostas are not.
Pruning for size is generally self-defeating. It is better to make sure that shrubs and trees are really in the right place to start with, especially not under the power lines. The size given on the tag is usually an estimated height in five or ten years, but seldom is it the maximum size—they do keep growing. And pruning for size usually backfires by making the tree or shrub grow even faster, which means more work for you as you try and control it.
When picking annuals, try to choose varieties that don’t need a lot of deadheading to keep looking good or to keep blooming. Same for perennials.
Don’t buy a single plant before you know exactly where you’re going to plant it. We have so many plants in the wrong place in our yard because we did not follow that rule. They get stuck in some open space and that’s where they stay!
Check out the Great Plant Picks Website for plants suitable for our climate; www.greatplantpicks.org.
The Perfect Lawn. There is no such thing. Well, perhaps a putting green, but the amount of care and chemicals needed is prohibitive for the rest of us.
Seriously, if you are using your lawn as a play area for pets or kids, please take time to research any chemicals you choose to use. Not only read the label, which is a legal requirement before use, but also do some online research about the active ingredients—not the brand name.
You may find the information quite illuminating when you consider the amount of time your child or pet spends in direct contact with your lawn, not to mention you. We’ve learned to love the moss in our grass, which also requires less mowing and looks just fine from the deck.
For more information about lawn care with a reduced environmental load, visit the Natural Yard Care website at
Take the time to learn how to correctly sharpen your tools and then do it! A dull shovel is like using a dull knife to cut round steak.
Space plants close together to crowd out weeds or space them far apart to make weeding easier, possibly with arborist chips in between. These are wood chips rather than beauty bark.
Plant spring bulbs among your perennials. The bulbs will be done blooming before the perennials leaf out, and then the perennials will cover the dying bulb foliage and you don’t have to do a thing.
Avoid monoculture hedgerows. If one dies, they’re probably all going to die eventually. We have a virus going through our Portuguese laurels on one side and probably a root fungal infection in our arborvitae on the other.
Raised beds, particularly for vegetables, are easier on the back and also easier to keep weed-free.
Containers are great for color spots and the potting mix is often pre-fertilized. They do take more watering, though
And speaking of watering, install a drip irrigation system to really save time and money. WSU-Snohomish County Extension is offering a how-to-do-it workshop Wednesday, June 5, and Thursday, July 11 at 1 p.m. or at 6 p.m. at the Extension Education Building, 600 – 128th St. S.E., at McCollum Park in South Everett.
The cost of this drip irrigation workshop is only $20, or $25 for a couple, and includes an extensive reference handout. To register, call Karie Christensen at (425) 357-6039 or visit snohomish.wsu.edu.
More information and help on any of these tips and topics can be had by calling the WSU-Snohomish County Extension Master Gardener Hotline at (425) 357-6010 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays.
Howard Voland draws upon sixty years of playing in Snohomish County dirt, and, the opinions expressed here are his alone. You can reach him through www.ravenwriters.com.