Author Jeff Bredenberg has made a habit of writing books that help homeowners cut corners. His latest is "How to Cheat at Gardening and Yard Work" (Rodale, $18.95), another of his "How to Cheat" series. This one offers "shameless tricks" to help gardeners stop and smell the roses rather than pruning and watering them constantly.
"We end up spending too much time and money on certain things we do around the house, and gardening is definitely one of those," Bredenberg said. "I like to give very specific advice that will help people get radical about this and ... find they have the power to peel that complexity out of their lives -- and get their lives back."
Here are some of Bredenberg's garden cheating gems:
1 If he had to pick one favorite that captures the spirit of the book, this is it: When planting a tree, you need to "face" it, meaning that its best side is facing forward. But it's hard work to keep moving it around until the designated director approves. The solution: Before dropping the tree into the planting hole, fill the hole two-thirds with water. The combination of buoyancy and lubrication from mud makes it easy to spin the tree until the right position is found. Plus, you give the tree a nice start with a big drink of water.
2 Make sure your garden tools are easy to access. If it's a pain to get to your tools, less work gets done and more effort goes into getting it done later.
3 You may hate bats, but they have nothing against you. In fact, bats eat tons of insects, including some that may do your garden some harm. For example, the little brown bats commonly found in many backyards can eat up to 3,000 mosquitoes in one night. To encourage bats to live in the yard instead of your attic, put up a bat house; they're available at many garden centers and online.
4 Weeds can be your friend. As Bredenberg notes, most of us were taught to believe that the ideal lawn is a deep-green, continuous "carpet of silky grass blades," each of which are from the same species. But, he asserts, "If it's green and it's not harming anything, then keep it." Proper lawn maintenance will help the grass choke out weeds anyway, he adds. In addition, some weeds can also be handy indicators of soil quality.
5 Instead of mowing your leaves and dragging lawn bags all over the lawn, put them in a big, stationary trash can. When the can is full, stick your string trimmer into it and shred the leaves. Then pour the riches onto your garden as mulch, or onto a compost pile.
6 Cut down on mowing by replacing part of the lawn with ground covers. These are especially useful on slopes and hillsides where it can be dangerous to mow. The smaller the lawn, the less work you'll need to do to keep it up. Use ground covers or pavement where you don't really need grass, such as under a picnic table or a swing set. Bredenberg lists two dozen ground covers that look good and are low maintenance.
7 Go native. Gardening is far easier when you rely on plants native to your region. They are naturally resistant to local pests, they dig the soil just as it is and they thrive with the amount of water that Mother Nature provides.
8 Target plant buying to reduce labor. Many gardeners buy plants without restraint, with the labor required to maintain them increasing exponentially. Bredenberg says to instead focus on buying flowers that add bursts of color to small areas and use low-maintenance shrubs and trees (rather than more flowers) for background and height. And remember that while some well-chosen varieties of perennials will also save on garden work, the "vast majority" won't.
9 Water newly planted fall trees with a bucket with holes drilled into the bottom, or with a leaky bag that you tie around the trunk. This is especially handy for a tree or shrub at the end of the backyard or some other inconvenient place where you can't drag a hose. Along those lines, dig a posthole next to a root ball to determine whether the tree is getting too much or too little water, depending on what accumulates in the space.
10 Don't be a weekend warrior. Bredenberg calls this approach to gardening and yard work "a path to misery." Instead, attack outdoor maintenance daily as 5-minute mini-projects: 5 minutes of pruning, 5 minutes of picking up yard waste, 5 minutes of weeding, etc. This translates, says Atlanta-based landscape designer Tom Flowers, into less total time spent actually working.
Garden shortcuts that save time and energy
Yard and garden shortcuts can deliver the fastest route to that hammock
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