How to take care of your garden

When to prune shrubs?

The best time to prune flowering shrubs depends on when the shrub blooms.

Shrubs that bloom in spring should be pruned after they flower (i.e. so you don't cut off the buds before they open) while ones that bloom on wood produced in the current year (summer to early-fall bloomers) can be pruned before growth starts in spring.

Preventing disease

Good garden "sanitation" goes a long way in heading off disease.

Techniques includes raking and discarding diseased fallen leaves; removing infected plants; burning diseased debris; pruning off diseased branches, and cleaning soil and sap from tools.

Low-care yard tips

Ways to cut maintenance in the landscape: 1.) reduce lawn size in favor of low groundcover plants; 2.) use paving in high-traffic areas; 3.) lay brick or concrete strips along planted beds to eliminate edging work; 4.) use fences or walls for screening instead of hedges; 5.) look to trees and shrubs for color instead of extensive flower beds; 6.) use mulch to control weeds and lower watering needs, and 7.) pick low-care plants in the first place, leaning toward native species.

Invasive plants

Among plants that people still plant that the manual lists as invasive are Japanese barberry, burning bush, border and common privet, five species of non-native honeysuckles, Japanese spirea, Norway maple, autumn and Russian olive, empress tree, Siberian elm, five-leaf akebia and porcelain berry.

On watering the lawn...

Watering lightly every day or two is detrimental to the lawn, since it encourages shallow rooting and makes the lawn more prone to bug and disease attack and compaction from foot traffic.

A better watering game plan is to water more deeply less often, ideally when the grass signals it needs water by showing signs of wilting (i.e. by arching over instead of standing more erect and leaving footprints after you walk on it).

Light and veggies

Fruiting veggies such as tomatoes and peppers do best with at least 8 to 10 hours of direct sunlight a day, but most root and leaf crops do reasonably well even when in shade for half of a day.

Just about all edibles can be grown in containers as well, although they'll need more regular watering.

Free soil amendment

If your soil is too acidic, you could buy lime or you could use free wood ashes from the fireplace.

Wood ashes also are a good source of potassium (one of the three main plant nutrients), but don't overdo it (no more than a thin layer), and don't let ashes come into contact with young seedlings. Also, don't use coal ashes.

A job to skip?

Regular rototilling of soil is usually counter-productive.

Mechanically mixing the soil can burn off and reduce levels of organic matter in the soil, leave soil more exposed to erosion, disrupt beneficial fungi living in the soil, and bring weed seeds to the surface, where they can germinate more readily.

Compost tips

Compost piles should have a blend of brown and green materials and ideally be sized between 3 feet tall, wide and deep and 5 feet tall, wide and deep.

Turning the piles aid the breakdown, but no, you don't have to add lime or any store-bought "compost activator."

Bug control

"Integrated pest management" or IPM is a common-sense alternative to spraying the whole yard every couple of weeks "just in case."

This involves first identifying the problem, then determining the threshold level for if/when action is needed, then researching the most effective and least detrimental way to get any needed control done.

Those warning labels

The type of warning on pesticide labels indicate just how toxic the ingredients are.

Products labeled with "Danger-Poison" or "Danger" are the most toxic, while ones with "Warning" are still potent enough for 1 ingested teaspoon to kill a 150-pound person.

"Caution" means the product is slightly toxic.

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