May has to be my favourite month of the year. Everything in the countryside has that lovely lush fresh green colour, the birds are singing, and the weather is warming up (although as I write this, we are desperately in need of some rain).
But this time of year can also be a very daunting one in the garden. The joy of seeing my favourite perennials springing into life is tempered by the appearance of the first handful of garden weeds. Within what seems like just a few days, the borders seem to be full of young weed seedlings, plus thousands of wretched Ash and Sycamore seedlings from the trees in my neighbours’ gardens. The weeding season has begun. And whilst a gentle bit of weeding can be very therapeutic, I do have plenty of other things to do in the tiny amount of available gardening time I have, other than just the weeding!!
If this scenario sounds familiar, then here are a few tips to save time and make life easier in the garden this Spring:
Mulch your borders & consider more lawn, less border
- Mulch your borders. Large bark chippings are not the most elegant of mulches, and some plants don’t like sitting in a sea of wet bark during the winter. In addition, Blackbirds love throwing bark all over the place when seeking out insects. But fine composted bark makes a very attractive top surface, and will suppress weeds (and help conserve moisture), albeit not quite as well as the larger chippings. If the mulch is spread directly over the top of the soil, it will eventually be incorporated into the soil by worm action, so it will need re-applying each year, but this whole process will greatly improve soil structure.
- Consider more lawn, less border. As a general rule, this will reduce the weeding chore, and a beautifully shaped lawn is at the heart of most gardens, even ultra contemporary ones.
Consider more perennials, more ground cover, fewer annuals
- Grow more perennial plants and less annuals. Ok, a few pots for annuals and tender perennials on the patio are fine, but a permanent planting in the borders will be a big time saver.
- Consider growing more ground covering plants. The key word here is “consider” – as some ground covering plants (e.g. Ivy) are so good at their job that they become garden pests and difficult to control. But there are many better behaved plants that will give a good coverage, especially in the summer months, and help to suppress weeds.
Gravel gardens & stepping stones
- Think about converting part of a border into a gravel garden, with plants growing through a membrane and gravel. This form of mulching can be a faff to set up as planting through a membrane takes a lot longer than planting directly into the soil. In addition, the effect can sometimes be rather sterile, and of course the birds will hate you. But the weeding chore will be reduced.
- Install a few stepping stones through larger borders. This will make access to all parts of the border so much easier.
Keeping on top of things
- Keep on top of things. If you have a relatively small garden, it is amazing how much of the weeding can be done with one hand whilst wandering around with a mug of coffee or a mobile phone in the other(!).
- And turning to another major task at this time of year (watering) – think about using a simple irrigation system with a timer.
Of course, if money is no object, there are lots of other things you can do to save time in the garden e.g. installing artificial lawns, raised beds, or even employing a gardener(!). But there are also plenty of simple and relatively inexpensive ways to make gardening at this time of year a little easier.