In the Garden:
Lower South
July, 2012
Regional Report

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Growing cucumbers on a tomato cage with drip irrigation makes watering and harvesting a lot easier.

Smart Gardening Tips

I have to tell you, confidentially of course, that I am a lazy gardener. Oh, I love to get out and work in the garden and often overdo it. Yet there is way more to do out in the landscape and garden than time allows. Whenever I can find a way to save time or make a tough job easier, I'm ready to give it a try.

One of the benefits of gardening is exercise, which we all know is a good thing. But too much of a good thing can be a not-so-good thing, right? Some people are reluctant to give gardening a try because they think it will be too much work. I like to say (tongue in cheek) that if you are a smart gardener, it is GOOD exercise, but it you are a not-so-smart gardener, it is GREAT exercise! That is because unwise gardening practices lead to a lot more time spading, hoeing, pulling weeds, pumping up sprayers -- well, you get the idea.

So I'll share with you a few tips that I've learned for gardening smarter. Unfortunately most of these I've learned the hard way, so hopefully you won't have to!

Keep your vegetable garden small if you are new to gardening.
We all get visions of a beautiful, bountiful garden every time we plan a new garden plot. New gardeners are especially prone to thinking big, since more is better, right? Our visions of Eden however don't seem to include bugs, weeds, or 100 degree temperatures. The result of overplanting is often frustration and an eyesore that squelches our desire to garden. Start small and grow as you learn how much the various vegetables will produce and how much ground you can reasonably take care of. I've been surprised by how productive a small garden can be when plants are spaced fairly close together and crops are rotated in and out to keep as much of the ground in production at all times as possible.

Grow vertically whenever you can by using trellises and cages to support vining crops.
This relates to the previous tip. Every square foot of garden is a square foot where weeds must be managed. So minimizing the garden's square footage by growing vining crops on trellises or placing fast maturing, short-statured crops near the base of taller crops on their sunny side will save space without losing productivity. Vertical growing makes for easier picking and when necessary, more effective spraying. It often minimizes disease problems by putting the foliage up where the air movement is better and conditions are less favorable for disease development.

Stop weeds before they start.
Wherever the sun hits the soil, nature plants a weed. So keep the soil surface covered with mulch and most weed seeds will never see the light of day. If weeds have already started growing, you may be able to avoid laboring at the end of a hoe by using the newspaper mulch technique. Cover the weeds with 4-6 sheets of newspaper, overlapping the edges about 2 inches and wetting the paper as you lay it down. This forms a solid, light-blocking cover. Then toss some more attractive mulching materials such as leaves or grass clippings on top of the newspaper. Over time the paper will decompose like any other organic mulch.

Don't procrastinate.
It is best to get things done sooner rather than later. Weeds, for example, are much easier to remove whether by hand or with a hoe when they are small than when they have become a forest of deeply rooted mega-weeds. Insect infestations are easier to control and your low-toxicity control options are greater if you catch them while the pests are young and fewer in number. Likewise, diseases are much easier to prevent than to cure, whether you are using cultural or spray controls.

Take it slow and stay with it.
Neither Rome, nor an overgrown garden patch of weeds, can be conquered in a day! A little work here and there can accomplish a lot over the course of a week or two. Don't be discouraged if a planting fails due to pests or weather conditions. That is part of gardening, but it's no big thing to just pull it up and replant. Work early in the morning when temperatures are cool. Spread the tasks out over several days. Wear a hat and sun protective clothing to protect your skin. Drink plenty of water too!

Buy quality tools.
In many ways, you get what you pay for. Quality tools last and often do the job with less work. If you've only used a standard garden hoe, for example, you will find some very nifty new designs that make slicing off weeds much less laborious. A quality spade is good, but some of the new mini-tillers can really save time and energy when working an entire planting bed or more.

Utilize irrigation technology.
Drip and micro-sprinklers can save water, avoid needless wetting of the foliage, and if combined with a timer, make watering an entire garden very simple. When I've switched from hoses and sprinklers or hand watering to a drip system watering, I've found it's not only easier and more efficient, but that my gardens get better care and end up being more beautiful and more productive too.

These are just a few tips for gardening smarter and making gardening less work. Stop by my blog and share your own tips and ideas with your fellow readers.

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