5 August 2009
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
The low maintenance garden
As gardening has changed from pastime to necessity, the drive for greater efficiency, guaranteed results and a more enjoyable experience has intensified.
Everyday, one prioritizes two factors critical to work: time and resources. Well look at some typical garden tasks where we weigh these two essential costs. I hope this decisionmaking framework will help you choose whats best for you.
Hand pulling takes time, but the compost pile that weeds enhance return precious nutrients slowly and continuously to the garden soil. Alternatively, chemical weeding takes shopping time, spray time, and then removal or mulch covering time for that withered weed.
One can ignore mature plant size, pruning to suit an imperfect location, or relocate the overgrown to a more hospitable site, replacing with a happier occupant. One can amputate a diseased limb or reflect on the cause, then take steps toward problem prevention with fewer scheduled pruning procedures.
There are good times and better times to plant. For ornamentals, the best time is the one that works with plant preferences and seasonal rain. For annuals, both veggies and flowers, there are seeds and potted seedlings, the latter being time-efficient but having a higher point-of-sale cost. Seeds require light, heat and a hospitable garden bed - some indoors, some direct sown in the open air.
Chipper, shredder, vacuum, mulchers or any combination of these offer the garden on site mulch from yard waste, with one, perhaps two machines. Then theres your time to shop for, own, operate and maintain them. On the other hand mulching services do it all for a fee. Which suit you at this time in your life; which will be more appropriate in ten years?
How long can you wait and how much space do you have? The more often you turn the pile, the finer you chop the ingredients, the faster the waste decomposes; then theres the shredding and hauling and application time. All this provides you the best disease suppressor, the best mulch, coarser soil structure and a slow-release fertilizer. Consider also, shopping time and application time for ready-made compost plus concerns about the composts origins.
With turf, eliminate the garden with its incidental beauty, produce and attendant tasks. Turf chores are simple, seasonal and obvious. Test the soil. Seed with a sun and soil compatible variety. Water to establish and mow at 4 - with a mulching mower, then trim. Feed in the autumn. With the hum and vibration of the mechanized mower, use the time to think. Or mulch to 8 inches plus a mix of ground covers integrated with hardscape - initially a labor-intensive and costly enterprise; nurture for three years; sculpt and maintain a smaller lawn area.
Much of gardening has its tools but it seems that as worktime expands, many gardeners simplify, using the rake instead of the leaf blower, the spade in place of the rototiller. Many more gardeners purchase services, resolving the need for motorized equipment.
When you hear "low maintenance garden," draw a line from you to the garden and back with all the stops along the way, factoring in the two most important costs - your time and your money.
Tip of the Week
Quinces are yellow-green to yellow when ripe for picking. With a bit of green they have more pectin, a plus when making jelly. Quince may be harvested green then stored in a cool dark area to ripen.