Updated date:

How to Garden Smarter, Not Harder

Dorothy is a Master Gardener, former newspaper reporter, and the author of several books. Michael is a landscape/nature photographer in NM.

When you look at a yard as beautiful as this one, remember that it started with one thing: good soil.

When you look at a yard as beautiful as this one, remember that it started with one thing: good soil.

You Must Start With Good Soil

Gardening magazines display photos of gorgeous landscapes and gardens, and if you are like me, you think to yourself (as you gaze out at your rocky, sandy, clay soil): "I will never have anything like that." The one thing all of those fantastic landscapes all have in common is good soil; without it you may have some success, but the "wow" factor will be missing. Plants receive the nutrients they need from the soil in which they grow.

You need to have good soil, even if you have to create it yourself. And once you amend your soil, you will find that it is lighter, drains better, allows roots to establish faster, and makes for easier weeding when necessary. Good soil will make it much easier to care for your plants.

Tips

  • If you need to buy soil, DON'T buy it from a grocery store or a large chain store; go to a garden center! They have experience growing thousands of plants and can offer advice backed with a significant amount of knowledge.
  • Cheap soil almost always equals cheap results. Those bargain brands are not really a bargain. Spending money at a garden center for great plants and then putting them in cheap soil is a recipe for disaster.
Your best plants will always be grown in the best soil. If you plant in soil that is subpar, you can expect plants that are subpar, and who wants that?

Your best plants will always be grown in the best soil. If you plant in soil that is subpar, you can expect plants that are subpar, and who wants that?

Use a Slow-Release Organic Fertilizer

When you are advised to "fertilize regularly," it can make your head swim. Fertilizing your plants regularly can be complicated, time consuming, and baffling. The truth is that different plants have different nutritional needs, and there are fertilizers that can supply those needs immediately or over time.

I don't like to use chemical fertilizers . . . ever. So I choose instead organic, slow-release fertilizers that feed the plants while building the soil. Repeated applications of inorganic fertilizers that usually provide the three macro-nutrients—nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus—will deplete the soil and, at the same time, harm earthworms and microorganisms that are beneficial by making nutrients available to your plants.

Natural organics can be purchased in a number of different mediums, including:

  • Cottonseed meal
  • Soybean meal
  • Fish emulsion
  • Blood meal

Again, check with your local garden center to find out which slow-release, organic fertilizer is right for you. They will release their nutrients slowly (just takes a good watering to get them started) giving you long-lasting, healthy results.

Garden smarter, not harder.

Choose Well-Behaved Plants

All perennial gardens require some maintenance; there's just no way to eliminate all of the work. If your goal is to have a formal garden, you need to shy away from perennials that flop over or sprawl out into areas where they are unwanted.

Rather than plant something that is known to spread where it is unwanted (and difficult to eradicate), choose a well-behaved, but fast-growing plant. Having the right perennials in your yard can cut down your maintenance time considerably.

6 Great Choices for Well-Behaved Plants

Buy Native Plants

Looking for plants that require the very least amount of care? Grow native plants—those that occur naturally in the wild in your area without any human intervention. The term "native" is a bit ambiguous, but it generally refers to plants that have evolved over many centuries to grow and thrive in a particular environment. Not only are they adapted to your local conditions, but they will thrive with less care than a non-native plant. You might also check for improved selections of native plants.

Including native plants in your landscape also helps to support local wildlife (birds, animals, butterflies, and beneficial insects) with the habitat and food sources they need to thrive.

Look for a "native plants" nursery in your area. Native plants are not as easy or readily available as most others, but a little bit of research will save you a lot of time in the long run.

In our area, there is a Native Plant Society of New Mexico (Albuquerque chapter) that has a wealth of information regarding native plants. Check to see if there is a chapter in your area.

Layering bulbs in a large hole is a great way to ensure that you have continuous blooms without having to dig individual holes for each bulb.

Layering bulbs in a large hole is a great way to ensure that you have continuous blooms without having to dig individual holes for each bulb.

Dig Once, Plant Many!

Digging a lot of holes for your flower bulbs can be pretty time consuming. Wouldn't it be much easier to grab a shovel and dig one big hole for them? If you've got a bag of lily, crocus, daffodil, or tulip bulbs to plant, simply dig one hole that is large enough for all of the bulbs, taking care to leave distance between them to prevent overcrowding.

Succession Planting of Bulbs

With the heights of the flowers in mind, you can plant your bulbs in layers (often referred to as the "lasagna method") at the appropriate depths. Even if you have a small garden, the result will be nonstop color and beauty. Bulb layering, however, must be planned out in advance. You can’t just pop in bulbs in a hole and expect to get the results that every gardener desires.

It is important to choose a selection of bulbs that bloom at varying times so that you can set up a schedule of blooming over a few months.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Mike and Dorothy McKenney