If you want to have more time to relax in and enjoy your garden and perhaps fancy cutting down on the hard labour, there’s plenty you can do to make sure that you have a lighter workload.
Get your soil in good condition before you plant. By digging in bulky organic matter such as compost, well-rotted manure or leaf mould you will improve the soil’s fertility and its ability to hold moisture and stay in good shape, potentially saving you a lot of time over the coming months and even years.
Mulch flower beds and borders, and vegetable and fruit areas too. This cuts down hugely on time you need to spend watering, weeding and generally titivating your plants. Make sure the soil is moist before you apply the mulch as this will help to retain moisture during dry conditions. Try to get rid of any big or deep-rooted weeds such as dandelions before you mulch; once in place the mulch will help to prevent smaller and annual weeds from appearing at all.
Containers are lovely, and deservedly have a lot of appeal, but they make for a lot more work than when you grow the plants in the flowerbeds. In a container they are totally dependent on you for food and water (if it doesn’t rain constantly!). Try to grow as much as you can in the soil, but if you’re desperate for pots and planters, choose them as big as possible and incorporate controlled-release fertiliser and moisture-retaining granules at planting time.
Grow lots of bulbs: bulbs, whether for spring display (planted in the autumn) or summer display (planted in spring), are great labour-saving plants, as once planted they simply keep on and on appearing each year, with little need for care. In the current warmer climate even those plants like dahlias, gladioli and tulips – which traditionally were lifted and replanted each year – often seem able to withstand the winter without the need for this effort.
Grow lots of relatively short herbaceous perennials i.e. plants that come up in the spring, die back late in the season then reappear next spring. They are much more low-effort flowers than annuals, which need planting and removing each year and then replacing the following year.
Short and Sturdy
Whatever you’re after, look for plants that are relatively short and sturdy, as these are less likely to flop and should not require any supports.
If you do find plants need staking or supporting, the quickest, easiest way to do this is to drive a few 45-60cm twiggy sticks, taken when you’ve had to cut back shrubs or trees, into the soil around the base of the plant. Twiggy sticks are unobtrusive and attractive enough to be left in place from early in the year right through until the following year, with no need for you to keep replacing them.
Shrubs, too, are great plants, as once established they need little effort and often provide colour and interest for more than one season. If you want to minimise your input even further, go for shrubs such as Chaenomeles, rhododendrons and azaleas, deciduous cotoneasters and Magnolia stellate, which need little, if any, pruning.
Grow ground cover plants – either herbaceous perennials or low-growing shrubby plants. These don’t need a lot of maintenance and will soon cover bare soil, meaning that there is less weeding needed. Dense groundcover will also reduce evaporation from the soil and so makes for less watering time. Plants such as Cistus x hybridus, lavenders and rosemaries work well on a dry site. Other good choices include hypericum, Euonymus fortune and Cotoneaster dammeri.
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