Now that you have your garden planted, you will want to keep it looking nice. Garden maintenance is just that, doing what is needed to keep your garden healthy and beautiful. Since I am a lazy gardener, I try to keep the need for maintenance at a minimum by getting disease and pest resistant plants and ones which don’t need a lot of pruning.
I also decide need to what problems I can put up with or need to take care of. (Do the root weevels on my rhodies warrant my being very aggressive about going after them? Is the slug damage to my hostas so great that I want to be up every morning killing slugs. Of course, I want to deal with both, but do I do it every day or less frequently or do I want to move or get rid of the plant?)
Now with these things in mind, there are some basic maintenance tasks that need to be taken care of. The best way for me to break them down is by season. I’m sure I will miss some, but here goes.
. Spring pruning of shrubs. The best time to prune many plants is before new growth begins, meaning late winter or early spring before leaves appear. You will want to prune out dead wood and broken branches as well as a few of the oldest canes of mature shrubs down to the ground. If you have shrubs that flower in early spring, wait until after they flower so you don’t prune out the flowers. You can also prune shrubs after they have flowered.
I have clematises, depending on the pruning group, now may be a good time to prune them. I have a tendency to treat my clematises as either pruning group 2 or 3, meaning that I either prune out some of the growth or cut down to 18″. Even those in pruning group 1, I do prune some.
. Clean up your planting beds (take care of the weeds – the bane of my life), add compost or mulch. It is also a good time to fertilize many of your plants. Now is a good time to test the soil to see what fertilizer is needed, if any. And use a fertilizer that is right for the type of plant you have in the right amounts (the labels are your guide and are actually the law) Don’t use more fertilizer than the label calls for. Not only might you not get the results you want (some plants may grow leaves but not fruit as with too much nitrogen), but there is a greater likelihood that excess fertilizer can get into the groundwater.
. You can plant your summer bulbs after the ground has warmed up. Gladiolus, dahlias, alliums and any other bulbs that bloom in summer can be planted now. Don’t bother with irises as they should have gone in last fall in order to flower. However, when I moved, my iris bulbs had been packed in a box for six months and were shriveled. I planted all of them in March, thinking I would not get many to survive. Almost All of them did survive, and I even got a few to bloom that first year. The second year (last year) the blooms were spectacular. They are hardy little things.
. Start your vegetable garden. Till, fertilize and plant whatever you want to grow. Wait to plant until it is warm enough for those plants in your area. Seed packs will usually have a guide as to when they can be planted. Some people like to start the plants indoors and then move them outside when it is warmer. If you do this, let them aclimate a little outside in their pots before planting, so they don’t go into shock.
. Lawn care. You should follow the recommendations for fertilizing and beginning to cut your lawn that pertain to your area. Whether you fertilize or not depends on your area and whether you have cool season or warm season grasses. Ask the Master Gardeners, Extension in your area.
In general, you should assure that your spreader gives adequate coverage of the area to be fertilized. Be sure to wear protective gear – goggles, dust mask, long sleeve shirts and pants, and boots. Don’t Ever let your skin come in contact with fertilizers or pesticides. Follow the directions for fertilizer application.
Summertime ‘An the Livin’ Is Easy – Well not exactly. Now your garden is in full swing, and so are the pests. In the summer garden, there are a variety of things you will need to be doing.
. First of all, your plants need enough water. New plants need to be watered frequently until they are established. Xeric plants, may not need to be watered at all, once they are established. You should water deeply one to two times a week (more frequently in hot weather. Watering deeply will force your plants to send their roots down more deeply and reduce their dependence on watering. If you wean some water lovers slowly from frequent waterings, they may surprise you and learn to do OK in dryer conditions.
In general you want the water to go down into the root zone 6-12″. A quick test to see if there is enough water in the soil is to stick your finger into the soil up to the second knuckle. If it is dry down there, you need to water again. Water the roots and not the leaves. However, keep an eye out for your plants, too much water can be worse than not enough. While drip irrigation, soaker hoses and timers are great boons to watering; this is not a substitute for testing to see whether your garden needs to be watered.
One of your best watering aids is mulch, which holds in the water so that you don’t need to water again as frequently.
Water in the morning whenever you can. It’s those late afternoon waterings that let your plants stay moist at night and makes them more susceptible to fungal diseases. And you don’t want those, trust me.
. Weeding – What more needs to be said, it is one of those facts of life, like housework. I hate weeding, so I do anything I can to avoid it. A good way to not need to weed is to establish some kind of barrier through which the weeds can’t grow, like weed cloth, layers of newspaper or cardboard. Then put some compost or mulch on that.
Last year, it got very hot and I didn’t get out to weed much, this spring I can see the results….weeds are in my garden and I need to take care of them. I can see that Round-Up and I are going to be good friends this year, despite my distaste for chemicals.
. Deadheading – Did you know that when you deadhead your flowers (take off spent flowers) that your plants can be coaxed to make even more flowers? The plant’s objective is to make seeds and reproduce. When you remove the spent flowers, they make more flowers so they can fulfill that mission. Then you can remove those and so on. The same can be said of vegetables. When you pick the fruit, they can often be coaxed to make more. So just do it, and you will be treated to even more blooms and veggies.
. Summer pruning. Some shrubs that bloom in summer or late spring can be pruned now after the bloom has been spent. If you prune them now, you will not be cutting off the flower growth for next year.
. Fertilizing – Some of your plants may need to be fertilized in summer. Check which plants need it and when. Your plant label, a good garden book or your Master Gardeners may help you with timing. Don’t fertilize when it is very hot, as this can burn your plants. I am notoriously lax on fertilizing in the summer and my plants are usually lucky if I do it after spring. But just because I am lazy, does not mean this is a good thing.
There are a lot of things that need to be done in the fall to prepare your garden for the winter.
. One thing is simple garden cleanup. You will want to cut down spent vegetable plants and perennials so that garden pests won’t have places to hide. Some people like to leave some of their perennials for winter interest. Some grasses, sedums and flowers with seed heads are good for this and also provide food for winter birds.
. Leaf cleanup is a big issue for people with lots of trees. You can decide whether to rake them or not. Leaving them provides mulch for your beds, but it also provides a place for small animals and slugs to thrive.
I am experimenting with leaving most of the leaves on the ground. It has improved the water retention of my soil greatly, but I also have a lot of slugs. We will see how long I tolerate this. Since I compost, I may begin raking the leaves and bagging them, saving them for next spring. Shredding your leaves is a good alternative. I don’t have a leaf shredder, however. (One is on my wish list.)
The one thing you do not want to do is let diseased leaves lay where they are. You want to remove them right away any time of year to prevent reinfection.
. Fall Pruning – While you may want to prune shrubs that have become unruly, resist the urge to hard prune them. A light fall pruning may be OK to reduce the likelihood that they will be whipped about by winter winds, but a hard pruning makes them susceptible to winter damage and stimulate new growth which you don’t want. Better to wait until late winter if you can. Damaged limbs and branches should be pruned when the damage occurs.
. Dig up tender bulbs and tubers like dahlias. We sometimes leave them, but keep them covered with a tarp to prevent water collecting, and rotting the bulbs. We have done both, but only leave the tubers that we aren’t pampering.
. Of course, now is the time to plant your spring bulbs, tulips, daffodils, snowdrops and a host of other spring bulbs can be planted now. Follow the instructions about planting depth and location and amend the soil according to the instructions. The spring will be a beautiful one. When I moved into this house two years ago we had a few bulbs. I am adding more and more each year. I plant planting a bunch more this fall and am in love with a green centered daffodil that I can’t wait to get.
. Winterize your tender shrubs. I layer mulch around my clematises and some of the more tender shrubs to prevent cold damage. Pull back that mulch in the spring (My favorite mulch is the leaves that have fallen from my trees.) I have used leaves in bags as insulation around pots that have needed protection whent he weather gets very cold.
Stake any trees that need support in winter winds.
. Keep an eye out for winter conditions. Provide some winter plant care. You may need to wrap and support some shrubs when the winter winds whip up. I have used floating row covers to protect some of my shrubs like azaleas when the temperature has dropped into the teens. Our potted plants get moved close to the house or into the garage and usually insulated with bags of leaves, cardboard or styrofoam blocks.
Unfortunately we lost a beautiful very old ceanothus two winters ago when the temps dropped to 8 degrees in a cold snap that lasted for several days. We tried babying it last summer to no avail. Even some of the most winter hardy plants don’t survive when the temperatures drop quite a bit lower than the norm. Funny thing is that a potted plant I forgot about, survived that cold snap quite well.