If you’re short on time, a garden can rapidly turn from a haven of rest into an endless list of jobs. From digging to mowing, watering to weeding, things can quickly feel overwhelming. These brilliant tips will save both time and effort in the garden.
Stop Digging, Start Mulching!
Digging the ground, year after year, is almost always counterproductive. It brings weed seeds to the soil surface, creating more weeding. It hastens nutrient loss, so you’ll need to feed plants more often. And it rips apart the complex life and very fabric of your soil, reducing its ability to both drain properly and retain moisture. Nah – we reckon digging’s a pointless waste of time, so ditch the spade and get mulching instead!
Mulches of organic materials such as woodchips, grass clippings or compost are at the heart of no-till, or no-dig, gardening. As well as gradually releasing their nutrients and contributing to better soil structure, mulches also promote a healthier soil ecosystem, which will help plants grow stronger with less input from you. But the biggest time-saving bonus of mulching is fewer weeds, which will find it a lot harder to push through from the ground beneath.
Make New Beds with Less Effort
There’s no need to expend lots of time and energy establishing new beds either. Simply mow off the grass or weeds as close to the ground as possible then cover the area with overlapping cardboard. Add your growing medium on top – compost works just fine. Sure, there’s a bit of shoveling involved and it will take a few weeks for everything to rot down, but it’s a lot easier than digging! Check out our video on no-till gardening for more on this.
Another option is to cover the ground with a sheet mulch such as weed-suppressing membrane or old plastic potting soil bags, into which cuts can be made so that well-spaced plants like tomatoes or sprawling crops such as squash may be planted. And you can even get nature to do the work for you - choose potatoes as a first crop as their dense canopy smothers out weeds and their roots break up the soil, in effect ‘cleansing’ the ground for other crops to follow.
Save time mowing your lawn by – that’s right – just letting it grow that little bit longer! The grass will be healthier for it, and it’s better for wildlife too. Then just leave the clippings to drop back onto the lawn at least every other cut, where they can return the nutrients back into the soil – that way you won’t even need to feed your lawn. Out-of-the-way areas could be left to evolve into a miniature wildflower meadow, limiting your mowing to just the paths you cut through it.
Edging lawns is a fiddly nuisance. Save time by installing lawn edgings that you can mow right up to, or set lawns flush with hard surfaces such as paving. They take a little time to put in but save lots of time through the summer.
Easy Care Hedging
Fast-growing hedges need cutting more often, so while slower-growers might take a bit longer to establish, they’ll drastically reduce the time you spend up a ladder wielding the shears. Yew, box, euonymus and cherry laurel are all excellent choices that can be trimmed as infrequently as once a year.
Save time watering by topping up mulches to reduce evaporation from the soil. Watering really thoroughly once or twice a week takes less time than a hurried daily water and, because roots are encouraged to grow deeper in search of moisture, plants become more resilient and less dependent on you.
Sinking old plant pots or plastic bottles with holes into the ground beside thirsty plants can provide reservoirs to get the water deep into the soil.
Water-efficient drip irrigation is a hands-off way to keep plants quenched, and if you connect it to a controller the whole setup can be completely automated.
Grouping pots together in hot weather creates some shade so that the potting mix within them stays cooler for longer. Stand pots in trays so they can absorb water from the bottom up, saving you both time and water. You could also incorporate water-retaining gel or crystals into the potting mix at planting time. Choose to plant into larger pots, which will dry out less quickly so need less watering.
Plan What You Grow Where
Our Garden Planner can help you make the most efficient use of your time. Use it to layout your vegetable garden ,then enjoy the time-saving benefits of having all the information you need to plan ahead at your fingertips, including how many of each crop to sow or plant and their precise timings.
It all means less looking-up and second-guessing – valuable when things really start to get busy later on.
Grow Crops That Will Succeed
Last but definitely not least, our top tip for saving time is to stop fighting nature by picking plants adapted or bred to grow well in your climate. Crops suited to local conditions will need less specialized care and will endure adverse weather better. In hot climates warm-season vegetables like tomatoes and eggplant are more likely to succeed than cool-season leafy vegetables and salads like lettuce or endive. In cool, wet areas include crops that benefit from moisture, such as celery. Consider your soil too: good choices for sandier soils include potatoes, onions and garlic and root crops like parsnip, carrot and beets, while heavier clay soils are better suited to squashes and pumpkins, beans, brassicas such as Brussels sprouts and cabbage, and other leafy greens like chard.
Save time on sowing seeds by growing some perennial crops to enjoy repeat harvests from a single planting. Rhubarb, asparagus, artichokes, perennial bunching onions, perpetual spinach, and perennial kales like Daubenton kale will crop generously with very minimal fuss from you. And, of course, don’t forget to include fruit trees and bushes, which offer so much abundance for little more than the occasional prune and mulch.
If you’ve got your own time-saving tips please do share them in the comments below.