As Mark was pulling the patio chairs out of storage this spring, he made a promise to himself to finally hang the hammock. It is time to do some swinging in the cool shade of a four-metre-high birch on hot summer afternoons.
It is now early summer, and thoughts of gardeners and non-gardeners alike turn to taking it easy. On that score, we can be of assistance. We have created a list of stuff that you can do to minimize the work and maximize the hammock time in your garden this summer:
Use native plants.Less water, disease and insect pests. Think about this – long before the Europeans arrived on our shores there were a lot of plants happily growing their hearts out without human intervention. The Native People of Canada, to their credit, left well enough alone, harvesting the odd herb or peeling a little bark here or there for culinary or medicinal purposes. But at no time did they reduce the population of any plant species to the extent that it became extinct. All of that changed rather dramatically about 500 years ago.
The plants that have survived since then are true ‘survivors’ with a tolerance for severe weather, pests, disease and drought.
There are lots of native plants now available at garden retailers, who have responded to consumers’ demands for these plants in recent years with the introduction of many nursery grown ‘natives’.
Here is a short list of our favourites:
Butterfly weed (Asclepias)
Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium)
Serviceberry (Amelanchier) – shrub/tree
Lily of the valley (Convallaria)
Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum)
Canadian ginger (Asarum)
Ferns including Christmas, Cinnamon, Royal, Wood and Marginal Wood ferns
Hemlock (evergreen tree)
Sugar maple (shade tree)
There is more to carving time out of your schedule for loafing. Consider this:
Water deeply and less often.Invest in a quality lawn/garden sprinkler that covers a large area but does not spray water high into the air, where much of it is lost to evaporation. We like the circular sprinklers that do not have the ‘halo’ effect of the old impact sprinklers.
- Apply no less than one inch of water at a time and water less often (place a straight edged container under the sprinkler to measure the amount applied).
- Hand water newly planted annuals and perennials as the soil dries to 3 to 5 cm below the surface of the soil
- Do not water your lawn at all. If we get into a drought situation, which is highly likely in July, your lawn will turn brown and go dormant, but it will not die. It will emerge from dormancy in August when evening temperatures drop and morning dew heavies up. In the meantime, you have cut your lawn mowing time dramatically.
- Deep watering encourages deep, drought resistant roots.
- Water the garden in the morning to avoid wasting water to evaporation. The water will seep deep into the ground.
- Use a rain barrel – we have 4 of them on the go and they save us a ton of time dragging the hose out to water containers.
- Use a soaker hose. The ‘bleeding hose’ that is made of recycled rubber or the new ‘flat fabric’ ones are great at delivering water to the root zone of your plants – where it is needed most. The new nylon fabric products are tougher and stand up to hard use longer.
Add organic matter to the top of your soil. By insulating the soil from the drying effects of the sun, watering is dramatically reduced. We prefer shredded cedar bark mulch but straw works very well, when laid down about 30 cm thick (this works great in the veggie garden especially around tomatoes).
Other tactics that will reduce the demands on your time this summer in the garden are:
- Cut your lawn at 6 to 8 cm high with a mulching mower.
- Plant drought-tolerant plants (see the native plant list above) and look for other non-native species that will thrive in your garden without a lot of attention on your part. Ask at your garden retailer.
- Cut down weeds when they are young with a sharp hoe– much easier to do it now than to allow them to grow into small trees – now removing them, THAT is work. And time consuming.
- Work in the morning when it is cool, when your energy level is highest and discipline yourself to quit when it gets hot.
- Work in the shade – do morning work on the west side of your house and afternoon on the east side, if you have this option.
- Hydrate. Take a bottle of tap water with you everywhere you go in the garden. Sip it frequently. By doing so, you will sustain your energy level and feel good all day.
- Sharpen your cutting and digging tools. Put your shovel, spade and hoe on the grinder in your workshop or see the guy who travels around the neighbourhood peddling his sharpening services. The guy with the bell, not the ice cream truck. Keep an edge on your tools by running a garden file over the blade every time you use them.
The difference between a low maintenance garden and an ‘intensive care’ garden is careful planning, timing, quality tools well maintained and attitude.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, and on Facebook.