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One-hour gardening

May 10, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

Busy lives leave little time for yardwork. And if Mother Nature isn't cooperating by providing too much or too little rain, that can make things even more difficult.

But surely an hour a week can be found to maintain the lawn and gardens.

Perhaps you're doing the work alone or the family can help, packing an even greater punch into that hour. One person could mow, another could weed, and another could plant or pick up debris.

A big part of making that hour a week efficient and not letting it drag on is planning, and perhaps making some changes to your style of gardening.

"A really good way to spend an hour is to make a thorough list of what you want to accomplish this month in your garden, prioritize the top three and get those done," says Annette Ipsan, horticulture educator with the Washington County Office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension.

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Choose plants carefully

One way to reduce the amount of time it takes to maintain your garden is to grow low-maintenance plants, experts say. Disease-resistant or drought-tolerant plants are one way to go.

"Don't plant plants you know have problems," says Robert Kessler, horticultural extension agent for Penn State Cooperative Extension in Franklin County.

Tougher, disease-resistant plants don't require spraying with insecticides or fungicides. These include Knock Out roses, which are resistant to black spot, a common rose disease. There also are vegetable varieties that are disease-resistant. If the plant's label doesn't indicate whether it's disease-resistant, ask your local nursery, Kessler says.

Tender plants such as canna lilies, dahlias or gladiolas typically don't survive a harsh winter. They need to be dug up in the fall and brought inside, Kessler says. To avoid all that hassle, gardeners could avoid buying those plants, Kessler says, or just leave them in the ground and take a chance they'll make it through the winter.

Prevent weeds

There's no way to avoid weeding a garden. But weeding takes a lot of time, and it's no fun. So some people hire others to weed. Dale Beard, owner of The Groundskeeper in Boonsboro, says garden-bed weeding is the task gets the most requests for.

There are a number of ways to prevent and treat weeds that can save time. One way is to smother very young weeds in a thick layer of mulch. But it's sometimes difficult to distinguish between weed seedlings and flowers or vegetable seedlings.

Get around that problem by buying flowers and vegetable plants rather than seeds, Kessler recommends. Once planted, mulch can be applied immediately around plants, but not over seeds. Place two to three layers of newspaper in the garden bed around the plants and put 1 to 2 inches of mulch atop the paper to prevent weed growth, he says.

Putting vegetable plants close together in raised beds is another way to prevent weed growth, Kessler says. The advantage of raised beds is you don't have to leave room to walk through the rows of plants - room where weeds could grow. If the beds are 3 1/2 to 4 feet wide, there's room to reach the bed's contents.

Planting vertically, such as raising tomatoes in cages instead of letting them sprawl along the ground, also simplifies weeding because mulch can be placed around the cage.

You still might find some weeds, Ipsan says. So, if time is tight, just check out a different part of your garden each week, thoroughly removing the weeds in that area.

Plan ahead

"I have an acre and a third. I never have to pull weeds," says Jon Snavely, co-owner of Snavely's Garden Corner north of Hagerstown and in Chambersburg, Pa.

That's because Snavely applies weed killer, and he is prepared. He keeps a tank sprayer of weed killer handy for when he has 10 minutes to kill before he has to leave for work.

"I can grab my tank and go out and spray my beds," Snavely says. When he empties the tank, he immediately mixes up a new batch of weed killer - mixing concentrated chemical with water - so the tank is ready the next time he has time.

By keeping up with the sprayer when the weeds are young - an inch or two high - the weeds just dry up and are blown away, Snavely says. There are different weed killers for flower beds than for lawns.

It's also handy to keep a separate sprayer that can be used for insecticides, fungicides and fertilizers, Snavely says.

To save even more time, people can buy premixed insecticides, fungicides or fertilizers that can be hooked up to a hose to apply, Snavely says.

More tips

· A quick way to plant young flowers and vegetables that come in small multipack containers is to use a bulb planter so you don't have to get down on your knees with a trowel to dig each hole, Kessler says.

· Use soaker hoses to water flower and vegetable gardens as well as shrubs. A soaker hose is a porous hose that allows water to seep slowly into the soil to reach plant roots. All you have to do is hook the hose up to the spigot or another hose to start watering, plus soaker hoses conserve water.

"You just have to remember to go back and turn off the faucet," Kessler says.

Or, if you get a timer, all you have to do is set the timer, he says.

· Prune a little each time, Beard says. Pruning is the second-most requested task for Beard's business. Prune a shrub or two each time you do your weekly yardwork.

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