14 Time-Saving Tips for Gardeners
Embrace a natural, livable space that looks great without hours of work.
#1: Build a perennial foundation
In a perfect world, plant-it-and-forget-it perennials would provide all the pizzazz year after year. But most gardeners can't resist annuals' allure. So build a time-saving foundation using hardworking perennials such as hostas and daylilies, then sprinkle in whimsical annuals such as impatiens and zinnias for bursts of color.
#2: Use the power of shrubs
Shrubs are the unsung heroes in the garden. Although initially more expensive than annuals and perennials, shrubs earn their keep over time and are often the most low-maintenance way to fill space. They add great form, require little watering and attract birds and butterflies. Shrubs such as petite Korean lilacs (pictured) maintain their small stature and lovely shape for years without pruning. Favorites: Korean barberry, lilac, butterfly bush, forsythia, Japanese holly, peony and rhododendron.
#3 Compost it
Dress your beds with a heavy (3-inch) layer of compost (pictured) every spring. It will suffocate weeds, give existing plantings a boost, and provide a rich foundation for annuals and new plantings. The healthier a plant, the less fussing it needs from you.
#4: Take it slow
Apply one pass of slow-release fertilizer rather than biweekly applications. The slow-release approach provides plants with nutrients throughout the growing season and cuts your work to a single outing.
#5: Grow up wisely
Well-designed gardens include vertical interest, and not everything eye-catching needs to be alive. Think beyond trees and shrubs to incorporate super-easy arbors, birdhouses and obelisks in your landscape, especially the kind made from low-maintenance synthetics.
#6: Choose for your Zone
Select plants that thrive in your climate. If you live in Duluth, good luck coaxing a magnolia to bloom. Instead, opt for a Zone-3-friendly 'Annabelle' hydrangea. Don't assume all plants sold locally are right for your Zone. Always check plant tags and shop where staffs are knowledgeable. Heavenly Hydrangeas
#7: Look for independent plants
Avoid finicky plants and flowers that need staking, pruning, deadheading, fertilizing and general pampering. Try these fuss-free perennials for the sun: coreopsis, daylily, iris, lamb's ears, Shasta daisy (pictured) and yarrow. For shade-loving perennials, consider: astilbe, bleeding-heart, coralbells and forget-me-nots.
#8: Get class with grass
Ornamental grasses (such as maiden grass, pictured) are year-round head turners. They add great form in summer gardens, graphic seed heads in fall and a feast for birds in winter. And they're easy. Simply cut them back in spring.
#9: Be a rose lover
It's hard to say no to these fragrant, historically fussy flowers. But new varieties don't need staking, spraying or time-consuming winterizing. Look for roses labeled "shrub" and "landscape." One star: Double Knock Out shrub roses (pictured). Learn more about growing shrub roses in Roses Made Easy
#10: Know your sun pattern
It's a waste of time trying to grow sun-loving phlox in the shade or shade-loving astilbe (pictured) in the sun. Full sun means at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. Full shade is less than 3 hours of direct sunlight a day. Partial sun/shade is 3-6 hours of direct sunlight.
#11: Beware of self-seeders
There's a fine line between "easy to grow" and "out of control." Some self-seeding plants can overtake an entire garden. Be careful with garlic chives, sea oats, morning glories (pictured) and mint.
#12: Think evergreen
Choosing a tree? Deciduous trees drop leaves, twigs, and seed pods that need raking, bagging or shredded. Though evergreens like the white fir (pictured) may drop pinecones or needles, they aren't as demanding.
#13: Step on it
Some areas of your lawn probably get a lot of traffic: from the deck to the garden, or around the garage. Rather than fight to keep your grass from being trampled into hard-packed dirt, install a path or stepping-stones. For tips on which materials to use, see 9 Ways to Create a Garden Path.
#14: Contain it
Pots and hanging baskets are easy to plant and easy to tend, especially if located near where you relax. Bigger pots are less apt to dry out and cry for help. See our container garden ideas here.