Maintenance Made Easy
You've done the creative work — the dreaming, the planning and the shopping — and the hard work — the digging, the planting and the building. Now what? Don't roll your sleeves down yet. There's maintenance to be done.
Making a garden is a process that doesn't end when the construction and planting stages are complete. Even in low-maintenance plots, gardens only thrive when the plants are tended and the soil replenished. Some jobs are regular weekly tasks, but many others only need to be done once or twice a year.
When and How to Water
Environmentally conscious gardeners and people living in drought-prone areas are increasingly aware of the need to save water. Containers, together with some types of vegetable crops and bedding plants, may need regular summer irrigation. Shrubs, trees and perennials need watering only at planting time and during dry spells in the first year or two, or until they are well established. No matter how brown the grass may turn, established lawns never actually need watering and will eventually recover from drought.
If you need to water, do so in the cool of the morning or evening to minimize evaporation, and water close to the soil rather than overhead, targeting specific plants. Mulches, such as bark compost, help seal in moisture and reduce competition from weeds. It is better to water heavily, and less often, allowing moisture to penetrate well into the soil and encourage deep rooting, than to water lightly but more frequently.
Making Watering Easy
Although watering can be an enjoyable task, if you are pressed for time or have a large plot, some shortcuts are welcome. Automatic irrigation can be very efficient and, if properly managed, help to save water. It also makes sense to collect rainwater at sites around the garden and to make use of recycled or "gray" water, for example from the bath or dish water if you've used natural cleaning products.
The perfect use for your old, leaky garden hose: connect it to an outdoor faucet or water barrel so it can channel water directly to where it is needed, through a newly planted border, for example (image 1).
If you are often away from the garden for more than a couple of days or are too busy to water all your patio containers regularly, consider installing an automatic irrigation system with a timer (image 2).
Benefits of Deadheading
In order to attempt to reproduce, plants divert their resources from other activities to focus on developing a seedhead. To encourage more flowers you need to remove faded blooms before they have a chance to form seed, in a process called deadheading. This is especially important for annuals which can stop flowering altogether and even die if you don’t deadhead regularly. But perennials, including so-called patio plants, can also be encouraged to flower for much longer if they are deadheaded. Removing old, blemished heads also improves the appearance of plants and reduces the risk of disease.
The Benefits of Pruning
Pruning is not really necessary, but thinning and cutting or selectively removing branches can produce many useful effects. It can rejuvenate an old, congested specimen, giving it a new lease on life; help short-lived shrubs live longer; increase flowering or fruiting; improve the shape and appearance of a plant; and reduce the incidence of disease.
As a tree matures, it may become too large for its site, or send out branches in inconvenient directions; such trees require pruning. Damaged or diseased branches and crossing limbs also need to be taken out to maintain the health of the tree. Hire a qualified tree surgeon to tackle very large branches, or those higher than head height. When pruning, take off a branch in sections — if you remove it with one cut close to the trunk, it will be pulled down by its own weight and may tear the bark on the trunk, leaving the tree vulnerable to infection.
To cut back branches, make two incisions: one, half way through, from beneath the branch; the second from the top to meet the undercut.
Then, remove the remaining branch stub, starting from the upper surface of the branch, just beyond the crease in the bark where the branch meets the trunk. Angle the cut away from the trunk. This pruning method produces a clean cut, leaving the plant's healing tissue intact. The tree will soon produce bark to cover the exposed area.
Feeding and Weeding
Many types of soil tend to be nutrient poor. Adding bulky organic matter, such as well-decomposed manure, improves the quality and structure of most types of soil as well as providing nutrients. During growing season you’ll need to add extra fertilizer, especially to the areas of your garden that see a lot of action. Control weeds by digging them out or hoeing, or with a weedkiller appropriate for the terrain.
Liquid feeds are fast acting and ideal for bedding and patio plants in containers (image 1), as well as greenhouse crops such as tomatoes.
For convenience and for treating pernicious weeds, use a glyphosate-based weedkiller, which is absorbed through the leaves to kill the roots (image 2).
Among existing plants, remove weed seedlings by hand (image 3). Use a hoe on dry days, severing the stems where they meet the roots just beneath the soil, or dig them out with a fork.