Tending and growing flowers and vegetables, planting interesting potted containers, or creating attractive outdoor living spaces are some of the things we call gardening or landscaping. These activities are fun and relaxing, bring the “gardener” closer in touch with the natural environment around us, and stimulate one’s creative abilities. And while this hobby provides so many benefits, we also want to make it as easy as possible, cutting down on time-consuming but important tasks like watering, weeding and fertilizing. Here are a few simple tips to make gardening life a little easier.
Quick Connectors – The garden hose is an indispensable tool we probably all use, whether to wash the car, water the lawn with hose-end sprinklers or bringing water to potted flowers and vegetables. There are a many hose attachments we may have in our watering arsenal – a variety of sprinklers, spray nozzles, watering wands, etc.
Instead of constantly twisting attachments on and off the end of the hose when changing tools, get some sets of quick connectors. These handy gadgets make switching watering tools a snap. Put a male connector on all of your watering tools, the female connector on the end of the hose, and with a quick pull, your tools can be changed in seconds. And if you regularly disconnect your hose from the faucet, get a set for that end of your hose and faucet.
Fertilizer Proportioners – This is a siphoning device that lets you fertilize a large number of potted plants or other plantings using your hose without constant mixing up small batches in a watering can. The device attaches to your faucet and your hose to the device. There is a flexible tube that you place in a bucket of concentrated fertilizer solution. When you turn on the faucet, the proportioner siphons the concentrated fertilizer into the water stream, automatically diluting it to the proper rate (if you made the concentrate correctly). Most proportioners mix at a 16:1 ratio. The formula for creating the concentrate is (the final concentration for fertilizing, like 1 tsp/gallon) x (the ratio of the proportioner) = (tsp/gallon of concentrate).
So, instead of constantly mixing up new batches of liquid fertilizer in a watering can and lugging it to your pots, you simply turn on the hose. Concentrated solutions can be stored if they are sealed to prevent evaporation. Clean the siphoner after each use or it can corrode. Note that you must have a backflow prevention device attached to your hose bib before attaching a proportioner. Otherwise you risk contaminating your household water supply.
Woody Weed Control – East Texans are blessed with an abundance of wonderful trees. And, all these trees reproduce by seed, which fall and germinate in our flower gardens and shrub beds. There are a number of weeding tools to make the job of pulling weeds easier, but many times, we don’t spot tree seedlings until they have thrown down a long tap root, making pulling difficult. What often happens when pulling a tree sapling is it breaks off near the ground, and then resprouts, all the while the root gets longer and stronger.
Pliers to the rescue. Saplings are much easier to extract if the ground is moist. And a way to help prevent the sapling from breaking off at ground level is to use pliers, grasping the stem right at the soil line.
Keep Your Tools Handy – Gardening hand tools have a way of getting scattered and sometimes lost in the garden. A clever idea I saw in a garden on this year’s Master Gardener –sponsored home garden tour was a painted mailbox in the garden, filled with frequently used hand tools like weeders, hand trowel, pruner, gloves, pliers, twine, etc.
Mulch Much – An easy way to cut down on the frequency of watering and weeding is to maintain a layer of mulch on the surface of the soil in all our planting areas. Chipped wood, pine needles, shredded leaves and bark chips are all good mulching materials. The layer has to be thick enough to prevent light from reaching the soil (which triggers annual weed seeds to germinate), but not so thick that water cannot reach the soil surface. Depending on the type of mulch, anywhere between 2 and 4 inches is usually sufficient. But, these organic mulches break down (which is a good thing), and need to be periodically replenished.
Finally, a little safety tip from my secretary’s grandmother. Stomp on your gloves before putting them on, in case a spider took up residence since the last time you wore them. Good advice!