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Beginner's Guide To Gardening: Smart Maintenance

No matter how you "till it," maintenance comes with the job of gardening - I mean the joy of gardening. And gardening is a joy, especially when the business of upkeep is kept to a minimum and managed with smarts!

The Weeds Have It

What kind of work are we talking?

Weeding. Gasp. Did I say that out loud? The horror!

But it's true; a veritable fact of nature. If given the chance, weeds will crowd out your plants in the span of one sunny afternoon, water or no water, and some weeds don't even need sun. It's actually an amazing feat when you stop to think about it!

Don't believe me? I have several weeds growing under my weed paper to prove it. No kidding. But don't let that dissuade you from using weed paper, because it is important part of weed prevention. Most weeds will succumb, and there is nothing you can do about some of those more stubborn types.

Line your rows with paper. Line your walkways, line your borders, and by all means, cover any unused beds with paper. If you don't have weed paper, a heavy layer of mulch - hay, pine straw or bark to name a few - will also work. If left long enough, this will also provide you with a pseudo-compost effect. I do like a multitasker.

It's All About The Wet Stuff

Speaking of multitasking, you have other concerns to ponder as you stroll through your garden, such as water and food, pinching, pruning, and plucking.

Watering is your first step to success. It's important on so many levels and even worth incorporating into the design and layout of your garden ahead of time. Without a good watering system, your plants are toast - literally.

  1. Don't waste it. Water is a precious commodity and spraying it willy-nilly through the air via your sprinkler is not preferred. It's much better to incorporate a drip line or soaker hose within your garden.
  2. Perhaps your space is small and not worth the effort of installing an irrigation system. Then you may want to consider the old-fashioned use of a watering can. They do work!
  3. If you must resort to a sprinkler system of some kind, be sure to water in the early morning hours or late afternoon/evening. This will reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation. In the spirit of beauty sleep and busy schedules, you'll also want to utilize a timer. It's convenient and consistent, and a timer never forgets (unlike some gardeners I know).
  4. Form a well around your plants to collect and direct as much water as possible to the base of your plant. Focus, people. We're aiming for the roots!

Personalized Watering System

How much water? Think of what you're growing.

Garlic and okra don't require as much water as squash or eggplant. You know this by the makeup of the vegetable itself: juicy equates to lots of water, while dry equates to not as much. Simple!

That, and some plants vary in their water needs depending on their stage in the growing cycle. For example, beans require low water at planting, medium amounts at flowering, and heavy during harvest when they're in full production mode.

"Know what you grow" is my motto. Read your labels, by a book, and ask a specialist at your garden center. Also remember that consistency is the key. Plants don't like to dry out anymore than we do.

If faced with a difficult watering schedule, choose to water deeply and less frequently. Why? Deep watering encourages deep roots and deep roots make for strong plants able to produce big fruits. This is a good thing!

Everyone Loves A Pinch

Pinching and pruning can encourage bigger fruits.

By eliminating tiny suckers and scraggly limbs, you direct your plant's full energy into the main stems. There should be no wasted effort in or around your garden, so pinch those tiny growths between your tomato stems and remove a bloom here and there. Trim back sprawling zucchini and winding cucumbers. Cut back spindly okra and strawberry runners and you'll see an increase in yield.

Better yet, clip those berry sprouts and root them for more berries next season.

Fashion In The Garden

While you're at it, be sure to look good out there! Gloves and eyeglasses are more than stylish, they're functional. It only takes one thorn to poke you in the hand or a single speck of flying dirt to land in your eye before you understand how important garden gear can be.

Don your hat, too. Not only will it keep you safe in the sun, it'll keep you young-looking in old age. That handy-dandy bottle of sunscreen will help with this as well.

More: As your garden starts to produce, think to the future by saving seeds, canning, and drying! Here's some advice for getting started.

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