Here are my top 10 must-try tips that’ll make life a little easier in the garden. Try them and I promise you’ll have a brighter, more productive garden – and all with a lot less effort!
1. Team Up With Nasturtiums
When planting pole beans pop in a few trailing nasturtium seeds at the same time. The nasturtiums will help to attract even more pollinators to the bean flowers, and they can also act as a trap crop by attracting common pests such as black bean aphid away from your beans.
Later on in the season, cabbage white butterflies will often prefer to lay their eggs on nasturtium leaves. These can then be buried in your compost bin before they have a chance to hatch and spread, helping nearby cabbage family crops to dodge an infestation.
2. Grow Herbs in Water
I reckon you can never have enough herbs! Perennial evergreens like rosemary and thyme will continue to give up their aroma-filled leaves year-round, but what if you want to enjoy fleshier herbs like mint and basil in winter?
Simple: take a few cuttings and grow them on in water on a bright indoor windowsill. They’ll produce roots within a week and, so long as you regularly change the water to keep it fresh and clear, should remain green and continue to grow for many, many weeks. Take some more cuttings from these to keep the cycle going till growth outside resumes in spring. Alternatively, you can just pot your rooted cuttings up into potting mix.
3. Weeding Tips
Ever tried to weed in hard, sun-baked ground? Hoeing is ineffective, and pulling up weeds by hand is almost impossible! Instead, you’ll find it so much easier to weed after rain. Rain softens soil, making it quicker and easier to pull up weeds and their roots.
And when you’re weeding and tending your plants, it’s worth wearing kneepads or using a kneeling mat to keep your knees dry and comfortable and prevent holed pants. Yes, I know, it’s a bit granny-ish - but like trekking poles, blankets and slippers, they just make good sense!
4. Reuse Prunings
Don’t be in a hurry to get rid of prunings and hacked-back branches. Keep some aside, especially the thinner, twiggier stuff, to use around the garden.
Twiggy sticks can be used as ‘pea sticks’ for supporting peas. These vining plants will weave their way up into the sticks, keeping them up off the ground so they don’t get nibbled or rot away. The peas will be a lot easier to pick too.
Another use for sticks like this is to keep cats off your beds – no one wants them digging about to do their business – or to make it harder for pigeons to peck at or disturb seedlings or recently planted onion sets, for example.
5. Sow a Few Extras
When sowing into flats or seed trays, sow a few extra, just in case. Trickle a few excess seeds into separate plant pots then grow these on elsewhere as an insurance policy against losses. These spare seedlings will come in handy should your other seedlings get targeted by pests or wiped out by bad weather. And if you don’t need them or don’t have the space for these extras, just give them away to friends and family. There’s no better way to instill goodwill than free plants!
6. Keep Tools Rust-Free
Tools run the risk of turning rusty in damp air. Keep an old towel or rag handy to dry off wet tools before storing them, and oil blades and moving parts from time to time to keep them protected.
A great way to keep hand tools like trowels and hand forks clean and tidy is to store them in a bucket of dry sand. They’ll always be on hand that way.
Use a bucket as a container to keep small tools and other bits and bobs together while you’re working around the garden. Be disciplined – put things back in the bucket when you’re done with them or, like me, you’ll be constantly losing tools around the garden. I lost a pair of hand pruners for two months – why oh why do they make gardening tools with green-colored handles?! Now I wrap brightly colored tape around the handles to make them more visible.
7. Use Hose Guides
Rainwater is always best for watering plants, but when that runs out, I resort to the hosepipe. Trouble is, it’s all too easy to inadvertently drag the hose over crops and flowers as I stretch it out to reach further parts of the garden. Flattening plants like this is frustrating, so now I feed the hose through hoops of stiff wire as I work my way along the rows of beds.
Simply push a hoop in at the corner of each path, feed the hose through and then head up the path to water. Once you’re done with that path, head back, move along to the next, thread it under that hoop and off you go again.
8. Speed Up Tidy Ups
When you’re raking up, say, a few leaves here and there, a trusty wheelbarrow works just fine. But what if you’re working on a large area or need to rake up lots of fiddly or spiky prunings?
Everyone needs a trusty tarp or an old bedsheet. Simply lay it out on the ground then rake leaves onto it; or, spread your tarp out where you’ll be working to catch prunings as they fall. When you’re done, gather the corners together, haul it over your shoulder and make your way to the compost heap.
9. Test Old Seeds
As a keen gardener, you probably have lots of seeds. Check packets for their ‘sow by’ dates in preparation for the new growing season. But before you rush to throw any out that have expired, do a germination test first. Space some of the seeds out onto a sheet of damp paper towel. Fold the paper towel over to cover the seeds then pop them into a lidded container. Move the seeds somewhere warm to germinate. Respray the paper towel if it dries out over the coming days.
After a week or two look for signs of germination – the smallest root or shoot counts. Now count how many seeds there are and how many have germinated to get your percentage success rate. I’d say anything above 50% is fine. You’ll then know if you can eke out another growing season from your seeds or not.
10. Know Where You’ve Sown
Rows of slow-to-germinate seeds like parsnips can easily be forgotten about. Marking them out clearly means you always know where you’ve sown, and can safely work around the area. A simple solution is to use a dark-colored potting mix to cover over the seeds. This makes it very obvious where the seedlings should appear. You can then hoe around this darker area and, as a bonus, weed seeds are far less likely to pop up within the row because your potting mix shouldn’t contain any weed seeds.
If your soil is dark already however that won’t work well. An alternative is to mark out rows by leaving a line of string between sticks just above the row. Taut stringlines like this are great for helping you achieve a dead-straight row at sowing time: mark out your row, sow your seeds, then just leave the string where it is until the seedlings pop up.