Not enough hours in the day? Too many gardening jobs to get through? I won’t keep you waiting any longer then: here are my top 10 must-try shortcuts to save you precious time. Try these speedy gardening tips and I promise you’ll have more time to actually enjoy your garden!
1. Grow from Transplants
Transplants, seedlings or starts bought from the local garden centre or online plant suppliers offer an immediate, no-worries way to get growing in your veggie garden. They give you a head start on the growing season without any of the worry and time-consuming nurturing of seedlings you’ve nursed from seed.
Plug plants or pots of young plants can be planted out straight away at their final spacings – no anxious waiting or thinning of seedlings required. They’re big and sturdy, so are better able to withstand pests like slugs. And it means less time till harvest!
Yes, they are more expensive than seeds, but often – given the number of plants you really need – buying a few young plants may end up costing not much more than a packet of seeds.
2. Choose Easy Crops
Some crops are a lot easier to grow than others: you plant them, you perhaps water and weed them – and that’s it. No tying in. Next to no pests. And nothing more needed from you other than harvesting.
Vegetables that fit these criteria include winter squash and pumpkins (you just harvest them all at once towards the end of summer); climbing beans which need nothing more than regular picking; leafy staples like chard; potatoes; garlic – and many more besides. All super easy.
If you’re not sure which other crops make for super-easy growing, you can consult our Garden Planner. Select the Easy to Grow option in the plant filters, and the plant selector will then show plants that are no fuss to grow. The easy-care, low-maintenance nature of each of these is bound to save you time.
3. Plant Perennials
Wish you could do away with the continuous cycle of sowing and planting altogether, but still want something tasty to eat? Then grow perennial vegetables, herbs, and fruits. Plant once – harvest for years to come!
Perennial kale can easily grow to six and a half feet (2m) tall, giving plenty of nutritious leaves as and when required, week in, week out. Unlike many annual crops, perennials like this tend to shake off the occasional pest attack, proving themselves a no-fuss alternative. Other perennial veg include perennial leeks and favourites like asparagus, artichoke and rhubarb.
Herbs such as thyme, rosemary and oregano will keep on offering up their tasty leaves. And then there’s the legion of fruit trees and bushes, like apples, plums, gooseberries, blackcurrants, and raspberries. They’ll give loads of fruits for next to no investment from the gardener.
4. Speed Up Planting
Planting’s easy and quick if you do your prep first. Start by thoroughly soaking the root ball before you plant – that way plants establish better and won’t need watering quite as soon. The easiest way to do that is to pop them into a tub of water and leave them in there until they’re heavy with moisture, then they’re good to plant. This pre-soak method is particularly effective in hot, dry summers.
Remove your plants from their plugs or pots then lay them out where you want them to go, then go through and plant each one. This way you’re doing one task at a time before moving on to the next – it’s a more efficient way to do things. If your soil is very light you may be able to just burrow down into it with your hands to make your planting holes, but in heavier soils you could use a dibber or trowel to make your holes as you plant. Alternatively, use a bulb planter: just push it into the ground, lift out the soil, then go in with your plant and release the soil to tuck in around its roots. Nice and easy!
5. Start Automating
Our gardens are one of the few places we can escape the stresses and strains of the modern world, including all those machines we seem to be slaves to! But let’s not get too carried away – technology can have a place in the garden too, especially when we’re looking to save our precious time.
Link irrigation systems up to a timer to automate the time-consuming job of watering. Use drip irrigation or soaker hoses and you’ll be delivering water efficiently, precisely where and when it’s needed.
Larger beds and borders can be weeded – by robot! Yes, believe it or not, there is a machine that can weed between plants, no problem at all. Its solar panels ensure it self-charges, and it’ll keep your garden spick and span. Then there are automatic lawn mowers, which zip about the lawn, as needed, to keep things nice and trim.
6. Low-Fuss Lawns
And while on the subject of lawns, there lots of other tricks you can employ for a low-fuss lawn. Don’t fancy the expense of a mowing robot? Then mow clever by leaving some areas of lawn to grow longer. Instead of mowing every week, drop the frequency to, say, once every two or three weeks, or even once a month. You can always make it look ‘neater’ by mowing short-cropped edges and paths to frame these longer areas of grass.
When I mow, I let the grass clippings fall where they’re cut. I can’t be bothered to collect the grass clippings and empty them every few minutes, and by returning what’s cut to the ground, there’s no lawn feeding ever needed. For neatness, you could use a mulching lawn mower which chops the grass up into tiny fragments that rot down far quicker, without a trace.
Remove fiddly edges to make easier to pass over with the lawnmower. For example, mow right up and into shrubs, so there’s no trimming with a half-moon edger or other edging tool.
Finally, if you have a small area of lawn, consider getting rid of it all together. I can honestly say that this area of raised beds takes hardly any longer to maintain than an area of lawn. It looks great – and you can eat it! You could do away with tiny lawns in other ways of course, perhaps replacing it with a patch of gravel made more interesting with self-seeders popping up here and there, or an area of pavers surrounded by wide, luxuriant ornamental borders.
7. Use Good Quality Potting Mix
Give yourself a time-saving head start by simply using decent potting mix that will keep plants healthy for longer. To this you can add a few amendments that will both boost growth and reduce the amount of time you need to spend feeding your plants later. A slow or time-released organic fertiliser will trickle out its nutrients over weeks or even months, so you won’t have to step in with additional feed until much later.
You could also give potting mixes a boost by mixing in worm castings or volcanic rock dust. Mix it all in at planting time to delay supplemental feeding a little longer. A richer growing medium also means bigger, healthier crops that reach harvest that little bit sooner.
8. Easy Composting
Save yourself a lot of bother by making composting easier. The way I see it, you’ve got two options to simplify things here. One is to use a compost tumbler – the sort with a rotating handle or where the whole barrel rotates. This will really speed things up and keeps everything neat. You just turn it every now and then to mix everything up and can expect compost in as little as two months. That’s fast!
The other option is my plonk-and-forget method. I aim for a roughly 50:50 balance of browns like old leaves to greens like recently cleared crops, but apart from that everything just gets thrown onto the heap and left. Digging it all out and turning it would speed up composting but take up my valuable time, so instead I just leave it to rot down at its own pace. You can start another heap elsewhere while the first one matures, and in time you’ll have a steady supply of compost.
9. Ditch Grass Paths
Grass paths need mown regularly, so instead opt for straw or woodchip paths. All they need is an occasional top-up as they rot down. And if you think all that organic matter rotting down into your paths is a waste of resources, it really isn’t, because it will gradually feed the beds around it, while offering shelter to all manner of beneficial bugs that will help with pest control. You can plant into it too, making your paths productive!
10. Stop Digging
Simply leaving the soil undisturbed is one of the best things you can do to improve conditions down at the root zone. Start off new beds simply by covering an existing area of lawn or soil with cardboard, pile compost or potting mix directly on top, and then plant into that. How simple and timesaving is that!
Digging not only disrupts soil life – never good news for your plants – it also brings up buried weed seeds, guaranteeing you plenty of hours of weeding! So ditch the spade and all the back-breaking hours of toil it entails, and swap it for mulches of compost and other organic matter that will nourish the soil, and your plants, the way nature intended.