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By Judy Koehly
Combine annuals, bulbs, perennials and shrubs; no one plant should have to do all of the work. Plant your beds with a backbone of perennials, shrubs and bulbs. These plants provide permanent color in your garden. Leave some open spaces that you can fill with annuals for all-summer color. Because perennials, shrubs and bulbs don’t need to be planted each year, spring planting takes less time.
Weeding is another task that can be time consuming. Preventing weeds can greatly reduce your time commitment. When improving your soil, make sure to use weed-free compost, either bought or make certain your compost pile gets hot enough to kill weed seeds. Discard all vegetable seeds before adding veggie discards to the compost. Also, pull weeds before they set seed to keep existing weeds from spawning more weeds.
Plant your flowers close enough together that the mature leaves touch, keeping the sun from reaching the ground (so weeds cannot sprout). Using a 2-inch thick layer of weed-seed free mulch around your plants will also prevent sun from reaching the soil.
If sun doesn’t shine on the soil, existing weed seeds won’t germinate. An added bonus of mulch is it helps keep moisture from evaporating and saves you from having to water as often.
Early in the season, spend some time weeding often until the plants grow enough to cover the soil. You won’t mind weeding when temperatures are comfortable and plants are smaller. When it is hot, you really don’t want to be out there pulling weeds. Putting in the time up front makes things easier the rest of the summer.
Fertilizing is one of the best ways to give your plants a boost; however, if you are using compost each year, you may not need any supplemental fertilizer. If you do want to fertilize, use a controlled-release fertilizer that is applied once or twice a summer. This is much less time consuming than applying a water-soluble fertilizer every 10 days to two weeks.
Install soaker hoses, drip irrigation and automatic irrigation. Watering can be a minimal job if you water your landscapes less often, but you must water more deeply and use available tools to make watering easier.
Soaker hoses, drip and automatic irrigation (or automatic drip irrigation) are great ways to water your landscapes. These forms of irrigation utilized correctly use water efficiently and won’t need the time commitment watering by hand entails.
Many plants do better to have the roots watered rather than the leaves and there is less loss of water to evaporation when you use soaker hoses and drip irrigation. Timers are inexpensive and readily available and save time, as well as water.
Bigger is better when it comes to plant containers because they need to be watered less often. A large container holds more soil and more soil holds more water, which means you can water less often which is a win-win situation.
Just as good garden soil is the foundation for good plants, good potting soil in your pots is the key to great container gardens. Use good quality potting soil with liberal amendments of compost plus soil conditioner (finely ground pine bark). Do not forget to talk nicely to your plants; they do appreciate that extra attention.
Use containers in your landscape to add height and color or to fill in a spot where a plant has died. You can also utilize houseplants outside. Tropical plants can come out into your garden or patio once the threat of frost is past.
Here in southeastern North Carolina, many houseplants can thrive outdoors all year. I have had success adding spider plants, prayer plant, asparagus fern, annual dianthus, shrimp plant, angel trumpet and oxalis as perennials to my garden. Keep experimenting and trying new plants to see what works best (with less work) to your own garden paradise.
Send your gardening questions or comments to: Brunswick County Master Gardener Column, P.O. Box 109, Bolivia, NC 28422, or call 253-2610. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if requesting information or a reply. Answers may be printed in this column.