Between keeping up with picking crops and beating back weeds, plant diseases, and pests, it’s common that gardeners feel overwhelmed, especially at the height of summer — or any time of the growing season. But you don’t have to let garden overwhelm get the best of you.
This week felt like the right time for an encore presentation of my conversation on reducing garden overwhelm with A Way to Garden’s Margaret Roach, the gardening columnist, author and podcast host. Margaret was a senior publishing executive before leaving the corporate life in 2007 to become an organic gardening advocate and to dedicate more time to gardening on her two-acre property in upstate New York, and she never looked back.
With more than 30 years of experience in the garden, Margaret has combated garden overwhelm longer than most. In fact, in the early 1990s as the New York Newsday garden editor, Margaret dubbed garden overwhelm the desire to “throw in the trowel.” But she says the secret to overcoming that feeling is learning how to identify and manage your priorities.
Margaret is a consummate list maker and is never far from her clipboard while in her garden. A clipboard or notepad is helpful not only for scratching garden chores off your list as you go, but also to quickly jot down future tasks as you notice them. (Your favorite organizational app can accomplish this too.) The list can be made on the fly and then organized later by priority, garden area, and the tools and resources needed to get the jobs done. If the weather makes it a challenge to finish a high-priority job done on a given day, another group of tasks can be taken on instead.
It’s important to not lose sight of your progress and to remind yourself that every bit of effort helps. You can also alleviate self-imposed pressure by consciously deciding to let part of your garden go wild — a little garden messiness can become habitat for pollinators, birds, frogs and other beneficial creatures. You can see an example of one of these flourishing spaces in Margaret’s garden in an episode of Growing a Greener World® from a few years back.
Focusing first on the areas that get the most foot traffic, such as the planting beds around your front door, will make the best use of limited time. Cutting a clean edge around beds and adding a thick layer of mulch can greatly improve the look of the most-viewed areas of your yard, and a few hours spent spreading mulch will save countless hours of weeding later and will help keep the soil moist — a huge benefit if you have trouble finding time to water. Speaking of watering, drip irrigation, soaker hoses or emitter tubing can make watering a breeze. And because these tools target the plants you want rather than indiscriminately watering the whole area, you won’t be watering the weeds and encouraging their growth.
Weeding is an inevitable part of gardening, but the same method of control that works on one weed may do little to stop another. That’s why it’s important to know your weeds and how they reproduce. Lopping off the top of a weed that spreads by rhizomes means the weed will live to grow another day. Meanwhile, a weed that spreads by seed can be controlled by cutting it down before it sets seed. Margaret prioritizes removing garlic mustard in the spring above all other weeds because garlic mustard is allelopathic, which means it releases a chemical that prevents other plants from germinating.
As people’s busy lives get busier or as they experience changes in health, what was once a manageable garden may no longer be so. While a gardener’s instinct is to grow, grow, grow, it’s sometimes the right move to downsize a garden until it is once again a pleasure to maintain.
There are proactive steps that can be taken ahead of summer to reduce the workload. Investing in soil health is always the right move in any size garden. If you feed your soil the organic nutrients it needs you will spend less time every year on disease and pest management. You may spend more time harvesting a heavier crop output, but that is a tradeoff I’ll take! Plucking weeds while they are young and inspecting for pest damage and plant disease often can help get many problems under control before they become out of hand.
It’s easy to walk into the garden and get distracted by other work, but setting small, achievable goals and focusing solely on your to-do’s will let you check off tasks as complete and revel in your accomplishments. Don’t forget to celebrate your victories, large and small. As Margaret says, any progress in the garden is “better than before.”
What are your secrets to reducing garden overwhelm? Share with us in the comments below.
And be sure to check out the show notes from the original airing of this episode for a lot more advice to keep from getting overwhelmed in the garden.
Links & Resources
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