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Do less in the garden

CHERYL TEVIS 08/07/2011 @ 6:14pm Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

If you wonder what should be done in the garden during the month of August, Louisiana State University horticulturist Dan Gill has a standard response: “As little as possible,” he advises.

Instead, August is a good month to take stock. Which plants are performing well, or even thriving, in the heat? At season’s end, ambition is tempered by wisdom. Note to self: Plant fewer zucchini next year. Stake the tomatoes earlier.

It’s also a perfect time to take stock of how well you are surviving your gardening season. Is it still fun? Or are you overwhelmed? Do your wrists and knees ache?

Before you plan next year’s garden, consider this book of shortcuts by Sydney Eddison: Gardening for a Lifetime: How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older (Timber Press, 2010).

“Sometimes the departure of some things is to the benefit of others,” Eddison says. “Don’t be in a hurry to replace something in the garden. Wait and see what happens.”

Eddison suggests these shortcuts.

  • Reject perfection. Leaves left under shrubs serve as great mulch for the soil.
  • Thin perennials. The greater number of varieties grown, the more your work will multiply.
  • Switch to shrubs. Look for ones that don’t require pruning.
  • Nurture shade gardens. Shade-tolerant plants are easier to care for. Weeds are more feeble in the shade and can be controlled by a generous layer of mulch.
  • Incorporate your surroundings. Extend your garden by edging woodland with a few shrubs. Naturalize daffodils for ground cover.
  • Miniaturize. Container gardening is a viable option and satisfying to the eye.

Nancy Pollard, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, also promotes patio gardens. “A child’s old wagon will grow lettuce nicely and can be moved to where the sun shines,” she says. “Farming on your patio puts the harvest close by.”

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