8 Super-easy gardening tips you'll use again and again
Gardening is one of America's favorite pastimes that is so much harder than it looks. If you're tired of killing one beautiful plant after another, take a beat and listen to what the experts have to say about cultivating your green thumb.
As a fair warning, most of these professional gardening tips are so easy and so obvious that you're going to kick yourself for not having tried them before. Not to worry — there's still plenty of time to learn to keep your plants alive and turn your dry, shriveled lawn into a lush gardenscape. Here's where to begin:
1. Make a plan
Image: Home Outside Palette app
Gardening isn't just scattering your seed into the wind, according to Julie Moir Messervy, landscape designer, gardening expert, author of Landscaping Ideas That Work and creator of the Home Outside Palette app. Messervy says, "Whether you are starting in a new home or you want to make some changes to your existing landscape, testing out your ideas is the best way to begin. You could certainly try sketching out a landscape and gardening plan on a plain white piece of paper, or use an app."
She continues, "Color and texture are essential to good landscape design, but I also always look for plants that are going to thrive in their environment without excessive coddling. Native plants do best because they're adapted to your conditions."
2. Start early
Image: London Permaculture, Flickr
In what Don Stewart, M.D., artist and guerrilla gardener, calls his "classic easy garden technique," the earthworms do the job for you all winter long. Stewart tells SheKnows, "Once you decide where your garden will be, simply cover the area with two to three layers of cardboard. No mowing or weeding — just cover up whatever is there. Next, cover the cardboard with at least 10-12" of organic debris: leaves, compost, yard waste, etc."
"The organic layer will insulate the ground during winter, attracting earthworms to the warm area under the cardboard. First, they eat the grass and weeds from the roots up, then they eat through the cardboard. By spring, the area will be tilled and fertilized and ready for planting. Any remaining debris can be turned under or used for mulch."
3. Choose the right soil
Image: Bonnie Plants
According to avid gardener Joan Casanova, successful and simple gardening is all about selecting the right soil type, "Success starts with the soil. Most vegetables do well in moist, well-drained soil that's rich in organic matter like compost or peat moss. Adding organic material loosens stiff soil, helps retain moisture and nourishes important soil organisms."
4. Skip the fancy fertilizers
Image: Doug Beckers, Flickr
With a nickname like The Garden Lady, C.L. Fornari, author of Coffee for Roses and 70 Other Misunderstood Myths About Backyard Gardening, must have some street cred. She explains the importance of keeping gardening as simple as possible, "Use one general, organic fertilizer for all your outdoor plants and apply it once a year. Our grandparents and great-grandparents didn't have a dozen packages and bottles on the shelf, and they grew plants well."
"If you want to supplement with a mix-it-in-the-watering-can-synthetic fertilizer for plants that look like they need a boost, by all means have such a product available. But after all, Mother Nature feeds her plants with decaying organic matter, so this suggests that those dozens of fertilizers, one for each type of plant, aren't really all that necessary."
5. Pick the right plants
Image: Chris_J, Flickr
Part of strategic and successful garden planning, according to Messervy, hinges on your native plant selection, "Choose plants that attract bees. The nice thing about choosing plants attractive to pollinating insects is that a garden that is rich in food for pollinators tends to be full of flowers — a win-win situation for the gardener and the pollinators! The native plants that feed your local fauna are also the most resilient, well-adapted and low-maintenance."
Casanova recommends a helpful shortcut for beginner gardeners who are planting for the first time, "While every plant starts from a seed, transplants make establishing your garden easier and help ensure better success. Transplants, like Bonnie Plants which are grown regionally across the country and available at most garden retailers nationwide, can trim six to eight weeks off growing time and allow you to skip over the hard part of the growing process when plants are most vulnerable — so they're more likely to survive and thrive."
6. Stay on top of pests
Image: Martin LaBar, Flickr
Raymond Zapata, landscaping supervisor at the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Southern California and master gardener of a nearly 500-acre property, shares his secret to a rich, green landscape: non-toxic pest control. He explains, "If you haven't done it already, buy or make a non-toxic pest control spray for your edible plants and flowers. Soap-based ones work best. Slugs and worms love to eat fresh basil, tomatoes and other summertime garden goodies as much as we do. Be consistent and spray it every day on your plants you don't want attacked."
7. Deadhead often
Image: Andrea_44, Flickr
All references to the Grateful Dead aside, Zapata insists that deadheading flowers regularly can keep a garden in bloom, "Another super-easy tip is to cut deadheaded flowers way back [so that] plants can use their energy for new growth, not sending it to dead flowers."
8. Know when to let go
Image: Kerri Lee Smith, Flickr
Truly successful gardening, according to The Garden Lady, is all about embracing the circle of life, "If it's ugly or dead, thank it for coming and throw it in the compost pile! Too often people think that they can't remove a plant because 'it's still alive' or 'maybe it will come back.' Plants do their utmost in most situations, so if a plant is struggling, ugly or looks odd, the chances are that this is the best it can do. Appreciate its willingness to make an effort, and then move on."