Seven Tips for Smart Gardening

Cultivating your own herbs — like parsely (above) — allows you to produce only what you need, as discussed in this post from the Center for American Progress.

You can add value and beauty to your home by maintaining a garden, but you may end up wasting time and money if you aren’t careful. Try these seven tips for keeping a garden that’s manageable and uses resources wisely.

Plant only what you can maintain. Overplanting will give you a headache and squander water, money, and other resources. To avoid this problem plant only what you can realistically maintain and look for plants that thrive on neglect if you aren’t around much to take care of them. If you are new to gardening, start small and work your way up. You can always add more, but getting rid of existing plants is both wasteful and frustrating.

Also, be sure to check the appropriate time to add new plantings to your garden. Adding plants out of season can require you to use harmful fertilizers and unnecessary amounts of water to keep them alive that you wouldn’t need if they were planted in season.

Compost your waste. Composting prevents yard trimmings, food scraps, and other household waste from entering landfills and reduces the need for watering by improving your soil’s water retention. It also enriches soil fertility and improves texture. You can use compost in garden beds, under shrubs, or as a potting soil for outdoor plants. Starting your own heap is easy and maintenance is minimal. For more information on what you should add to your compost, take our quiz.

Ditch the pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Pesticides and fertilizers can pollute ground water and turn your fruits and vegetables toxic. Mulch and compost are natural alternatives that aren’t pollutants””and compost is free if made from kitchen scraps. You can also make your own mulch from grass clippings and other yard waste.

Water smarter. Water in the mornings or at night and not during the day because the afternoon’s intense sunlight will cause water to evaporate. It is also important to water the soil instead of your plants’ leaves to keep your plants’ roots hydrated and prevent fungal disease.

Avoid annuals. Most annual flowers, such as petunias or impatiens, have shallower root systems than perennials. Deep root systems allow plants to tap into water deep within the soil and survive with infrequent watering after they are established.

Stick with native and indigenous plants. Exotic plants typically need more water than native varieties. Avoid rapidly growing plants with soft or fleshy trunks””they usually need large amounts of water. Most seeds and plants are labeled to indicate which regions they grow best in, and these guides can be helpful when determining what to plant.

Start an herb garden. Planting herbs can be the most economical decision you make with your garden, and they can save you trips to the grocery store. When you buy herbs from the store or produce market, the quantities available are often much larger than you need. Growing them at home allows you to harvest only what you’ll use, and they are easy to cultivate and maintain.

11 Responses to Seven Tips for Smart Gardening

  1. Willem van Oranje says:

    I don’t have the opportunity to make my own compost heap, just a herb garden and some perennials. But be aware of one thing when making your own compost: don’t throw waste from your garden that has been infected with fungi, pests or virusses on your heap, you will reintroduce them back into your garden after composting

  2. Jim Beacon says:

    I guess we’re taking a break… OK with me, Friday was agony. As a avid gardener of 40 years I agree with just about everything in this very good “starter list”. With one caveat:

    The pesticides. Look, you obviously want to use as little of them as possible (even the “organic solutions”). But after spending a lot of time, effort and money on your garden, you just can’t let a serious insect infestation or fungus disease attack decimate your plants. This is particularly true if you are growing stuff to eat. I do garden “organically” as much as possible with my limited time, but the non politically-correct truth is that unless you can devote a huge chunk of time each day to building and maintaining the whole, extensive pure organic gardening gestalt that you will occasionally need “something stronger”.

    In that case, what *is* practical and responsible to do is to find the least dangerous pesticide or fungicide that will work on your particular problem and apply it in a carefully targeted manner, using only as much as needed. This approach can virtually eliminate run-off issues, cross-contamination and build-up in the soil. There are some new quite safe pesticides — many even qualify for the organic certification by OMRI (look for the seal on the bottle). You simply have to do a bit of research on the web on the particular chemical.

    For instance, there are products made with something called “Spinosad” which is grown from a bacteria that doesn’t affect beneficial insects like ladybugs but works on a lot of tough nasty bugs (even fire ants). It is not a “chemical pesticide” at all, but works like one. And it rapidly breaks down in the sun and soil. Neem oil is pressed from the fruit of the neem tree, which people have used in medicines and cosmetics for centuries, but it works on many bugs and even as a modestly-effective fungicide. The chemical “maneb” is a very effective fungicide which if used carefully can be safely applied to fruits and vegetables just a few days before harvest (although I wouldn’t push it that close myself).

    Just don’t do a lot of pre-emptive “preventative” spraying unless it is with really safe organic solutions. And don’t worry about a few bugs, only take the stronger action if things start to get out of control.

    But even doing small-scale patio gardening is a number one way to relive the frustrations and stress of listening to congressional debates on climate change.

  3. Jim Beacon says:

    PS: I forgot about fertilizers. That’s one area where you can totally dump the synthetics. Even if you can’t do compost, you can now buy it pre-made. Even better are high-quality purely organic fertilizers from a company called “Espoma” which are widely available and not all that expensive. For a quick nitrogen fix that doesn’t get into the soil, you can buy a bottle of concentrated fish oil and spray it directly on the leaves and that stuff works almost instantly. Yes, it will smell a little for an hour or two after you apply it, but that rapidly goes away.

  4. Hendo says:

    Good tips, thanks. We use a seaweed & fish based fertiliser (Seasol ) that seems to work a treat. A little spendy but that discourages over-use.

    Yes and a few bugs are OK – they play their part.

    Soil structure is important, one of the reasons compost is so good, it allows oxygen and nitrogen into the soil. Compacted soil won’t give good results, so look at soil structure and the pH. You also need a dash of calcium otherwise your plants might not be able to take up some of the nutrients.

    Lastly, I have had pleasing results growing from non-GM “Heritage” or “Heirloom” seeds. ( Lots of Google entries. Worth finding, they are like what we used to get as kids. Tomatoes, strawberries and more with flavour!

  5. Hendo says:

    P.S. This thread is different from the norm, but in a way it examples the options as we adapt to climate change and we no longer have so many buying options available. It also steps around some of the techniques farmers often have to use to bring in an economically viable crop, but are not so good for the food or consumers.

  6. PaulK says:

    Don’t forget the manure. We spray a weak dish washing liquid/water mix on the underside of the leaves to protect tomato and pepper plants. Planting marigolds among your veggies is a good idea. We also lay peanut butter jar lids filled with nicotine tea (a packet of Tops or Bugler tobacco per gallon of water left in the sun for a few days) around our veggie patch.

  7. MarkB says:

    I started a vegetable garden this year, so this is good basic advice. Since I have plenty of yard space, I’m planning on gradually converting more grass area into more garden area – good for the environment and nothing beats very locally-grown organic vegetables.

  8. K. Nockels says:

    Always happy this time of year working in my garden. I always seem to grow (organic) more than I can use, but the local shelters and soup kitchens are always glad to see me and my boxes of fresh fruit and vegies. I also give to the local food bank now that they accept home grown. My canning cupboard is getting low but Not for long. The berries and currants are outstanding this year. And I finally found a canolope that grows in northern climes. Happy Gardening to you all.

  9. jeaniebeanie says:

    Don’t forget the ultra-cheap, ultra-recycling wonder of using diluted urine for at least part of your fertilizer needs. See “Liquid Gold; The Lore and Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants,” by Carol Steinfeld, if you don’t believe me. Smell is not a problem. Collect in recycled water or juice jugs after collecting with half-quart plastic yogurt containers. There is no disease risk unless you have some horrific communicable disease (in which case you’re much too weak to garden). This is a wonderful way to close the nutrient cycle. You can also use it in composting to bring your high-carbon materials into balance with nitrogen.

  10. J4zonian says:

    Jim B,

    The answer: funny friends with big noses. The Jimmy Durantes of the animal world.

    I agree with you; no need for chemical fertilizers AND we need to use “as little [pesticide] as possible.”

    But…you’re the Steven Seagal of the garden. Every movie he ever made was the same–he stands up for what’s right, hates to resort to violence–it’s his last resort. And EVERY SINGLE MOVIE HE EVER MADE, he resorts to it. People don’t watch his movies to see non-violence, they watch his movies to see violence. It just SEEMS justified because it was his “last resort”. But if there’s a 100% certainty the path you’re on is going to eventually end up in the wrong place, doesn’t that mean it’s the wrong path? The only solution to being on the wrong path is get off it. So get off it, Jim. ;)

    How ’bout violence as no resort? (including the violence of killing insects and plants and gophers) How ’bout we practice, just this once, solving a problem without declaring war on someone and trying to kill her? How ’bout the least possible pesticide being no pesticide?

    “Pests” are created, by definition and by not listening to the land…by imbalances. If you “need” to resort to poison, what you really need to do is look at your situation (a hammock is good for that), change the plants you’re growing or the place you’re growing them, add organic matter to the soil, add other plants or animals to the mix, eat the weed…

    explore permaculture.

    One of my permaculture teachers, Aussie Robyn Francis, asks “is it a snail problem or a duck deficit?”

    because a snail problem is an endless, difficult, high-maintenance battle, but a duck deficit–well, that’s really easy to fix.

    Plus you get eggs.

    Try: Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway, or search for local permaculturalists or Transition Town groups.

  11. J4zonian says:

    And by the way, William,

    have you considered a worm bin? It’s a compost-pile-in-a-box, can fit into a small apartment, doesn’t smell, doesn’t attract “pests” (see above post), you save your government from garbage-hauling costs ($ and other costs) and get good usable soil of which you can grow tomatoes…and then the old plants go in the worm bin… and so on.

    I recommend singing “All my life’s a circle” as you do it.