Maintaining a Garden – Keeping it Naturally Beautiful

Keeping Your Garden Naturally Beautiful

Maintaining the garden’s appearance and fertility — how to keep your garden beautiful, interesting and fertile as well as neat and tidy.

A garden that is well planned and already running can take surprisingly little time to keep it that way once a regular routine is established. It may be hard to believe, but almost any average-sized garden can be kept neat, tidy and full of interest and production for only an hour or two a week if the tasks are approached methodically all year round.

maintaining a garden It’s not having a lot of expensive tools that gets a good job done, but those you use most often have to be good, or you will end up suffering more than your garden.

Most gardening activities are tied to the seasons and the advantage comes to the gardener spreading the load to be in time with the rhythm of the year. Ideally we should all carry out tasks at their optimum moment, doing them efficiently, effectively and cleaning up afterwards. In the real world, it is harder to arrive at such perfection. Nonetheless, it is true that persistently applying small but timely attentions will in the end give you the best results. The other thing to remember is that just maintaining a garden takes little time and effort compared to making any changes, especially major ones!

The daily round

The priority is nearly always watering whatever may need it, then harvesting whatever is wanted, and ready, for the kitchen or store. Make this the basis for a daily inspection tour, writing a list of anything that needs urgent attention, as well as tasks coming up, such as seedlings that need potting up or specimens that require pruning. At the same time, collect and dispose of any litter, gather up any other superfluous items, dead head and tidy or tie in the odd unsightly lax growth. If you have a coldframe or greenhouse, open and close the ventilation and check the min/max thermometer to ensure heating or cooling is adequate.

The weekly routine

The vital tasks are the daily ones; only once those are completed is it sensible to commence the weekly. The most important weekly job is sowing and transplanting whatever is due, as next week will be too late! Afterwards, sharpen your hoe and weed the beds and borders. Only then should you clip edges and mow grass. Collect the clippings, larger weeds and all other organic debris for composting. Finally, have a break, sit down and think before proceeding to the next most urgent seasonal task.

The yearly cycle

One of the joys of gardening is that along with the regular jobs, such as the weeding and grass cutting, there is a variety of activities that come around with the seasons, such as the harvesting in autumn and the preparations for winter. To jog your memory for specific tasks, such as when to prune currants, check out the Gardening Calendar with its schedule of gardening tips and advice.

The Biggest Tasks

Some of these can become onerous chores if we don’t plan to make them easier for ourselves.


By far the biggest stealer of time is the weeding, it is always best done sooner than later. The plants we want to grow are continually threatened by weeds which are far more efficient competitors for air, light, water and nutrients. To get our plants to grow well we must keep weeds controlled, especially in the earliest stages of each plant’s life.

Grass cutting

For neatness and for the clippings, we need ideally to cut the grass on average once weekly throughout the growing season. In the UK, this can last from March to November. In countries with milder winters, there may not be much of a dormant period. At the start and end of the season longer gaps can be left, especially if the soil is poor, but in the late spring, the period of maximum growth, mowing every four or five days makes a better sward and gives more clippings.

grass cutting Grass may be cut more often, but it should never be cut too short, though you can vary the height of cut during the season to control the growth. The shorter you cut it the less it grows, and the more the moss and weeds come in. The longer you leave it the more dew the lawn collects and the stronger and deeper the roots grow. The first cut each year must never be too close, though following spring cuts can decrease in height to slow down regrowth. In summer raise the height again to keep the grass greener and more drought resistant. If strong growth starts after heavy rain in summer, lower the height a little to check it. However, always start to raise the height of cut as the autumn progresses, this makes the sward hardier and banks up some clippings for spring, when they are often in short supply.

In the autumn leaves can be collected with the grass clippings, since both break down better when mixed together in the compost bin than on their own. It is a good idea to return to the turf the clippings of the first and last cuts, as these then feed the worms which are most actively eating in spring and autumn. Do lime the sward every other year to encourage the grass and discourage mosses and acid-loving weeds. Keep your mower blades sharp — they will work much better!

Digging and no-dig methods

There has been much controversy over the digging and no-dig methods. Most of any garden is never dug anyway — it is really only the vegetable plot that the majority of people dig regularly, though I haven’t dug mine for fifteen years. Digging annually breaks up the natural soil layers, the network of earthworm tunnels and decaying root systems. It exposes a few pests to birds et al, and aerates the soil, but this causes excessive humus breakdown, with a short-term increase in fertility which may leach out if the digging precedes the crop by too long. The need to produce a good seedbed does not justify digging unless the soil has been badly compacted. Instead, use a combination of mulching and surface cultivation to make a tilth every bit as good.

However, most soils show benefit from a thorough digging once in five to ten years, which is often done anyway as crops come round in a rotation, with quite sufficient soil disturbance from harvesting the potatoes and root vegetables every other year or so. If nothing else, digging destroys mole runs, ant nests and so on, but many successful gardens are never dug. No-dig vegetable plots mostly feature permanent paths and fixed or raised beds so that the soil is not compacted by traffic. I strongly suggest that you use fixed beds and dig only occasionally.

If you still deem digging necessary, make sure you pace yourself. Never work too hard for too long, never dig sodden soil, never move too large a spit. Work slowly and methodically, breaking up each lump and mixing in sharp sand and well-rotted manure as you go. Heavy soils are least harmed by digging during the drier weather of autumn; lighter ones can be left till late winter to avoid nutrients leaching out, but both need to recover and re-consolidate their capillary network before plants will do well. Digging may benefit heavy soils the more, as it can help break them down into a good crumb structure if well dug and frosted, but if badly dug can just make large clods and air gaps. Light soil which is easy to dig needs it least.


pruning This is better left undone than done badly. For most woody plants the least pruning is the best although for some such as fruit, especially when trained, careful pruning is essential. Generally, we should need to prune only those shoots that are diseased, unhealthy, rubbing or where they are getting in the way or stealing light. Remember that growth removed is soon replaced and tends to grow back just where it was. Thus perfection in pruning is rubbing out buds that point in the wrong direction long before they become shoots.

When pruning, always either leave one healthy bud or shoot to draw the sap after the cut has been made, or cut off the growth flush with the point on the stem it springs from. Never leave a snag of wood with no bud, because this will die back allowing rots to get a hold. Painting wounds with pruning compound, paint or beeswax probably does little good at preventing disease but does stop water and pests getting in and makes the job look neat. I believe it is more important for larger wounds.

Trichoderma virides paste contains a natural predatory fungus which efficiently prevents fungal attacks, but this is not currently available to amateurs in the UK. In countries where it is legal – or in the UK if you are employing a professional – it should be applied before other pruning compounds. In the past much was claimed for Forsyth’s pruning compound made of 1 part cow dung, ½ part lime, ½ part wood ashes and 1/16 part sand, finely mixed with urine and soapsuds. This was painted on and set with a powder of 1 part wood ashes and 1/6 part pounded burnt bone. I have recently tried Forsyth’s compounds and am convinced their application has some virtue for stimulating healthy growth. If a wound calluses well the surrounding tissues will eventually grow over the painted dead wood. With large wounds this may take years, so check and patch annually. Similarly, clean out cankers and holes and fill with pruning compound to prevent water and rot getting in.

Prune most plants immediately if you spot something that requires attention. Pruning will do little harm as most plants can lose up to a quarter of their leaf area before they suffer greatly. So do not wait until the ‘right time’ to prune – cut out problems before they get bigger. However, heavy pruning – where more than a quarter of the old growth is removed – is best done when the plant is dormant to reduce the shock.

Exceptions are stone fruits and ornamentals related to plums, which are best pruned in summer to avoid silver leaf disease. Some soft fruits, such as redcurrants and gooseberries, are also very hard pruned after mid-summer because this helps to promote fruiting. Younger plants and young growth recover far better from heavy pruning than old. Never cut into old growth which has no new buds because, like snags, they rarely resprout. The exceptions to this include privet, yew and quickthorn, which often come again from mere stumps. Before pruning a plant making poor growth, stimulate it for a year with water, compost and a mulch to give it vigorous roots first.

Rose pruning is a special task all of its own. Forget the advice of the experts who grow flowers for show -they do not want the same as you. They are after a few enormous perfect blooms. Most gardeners, on the other hand, are after great numbers of blooms in several flushes, preferably with no feeding, spraying or pruning.

Once well established, rose bushes of most forms can be treated like hedges or like lavender plants and simply sheared back. This leaves lots of congested wood, but this is no problem as copious flowers are produced. Such treatment suits most varieties, but they will need more space as they now form fuller bushes. The climbing and most vigorous forms are better restrained than pruned and I prefer to weave them into themselves to form dense basketworks of growth. This makes great hiding places for wildlife, as well as getting the whole surface covered in flowers.

Hedge trimming

This can be one of the biggest tasks if your hedge is of any size. I have used both shears and an electric or petrol hedge trimmer, and although the power trimmer may seem quicker, I find shears much more enjoyable to use. They can do just as good a job much more quietly and safely.

If the hedge is high, make sure your steps or whatever are really solid. Strim or tidy the base first, then put down old sheets to catch the trimmings. Cut back the sides first, so that they taper in at the top, then do the top – this is the way to catch most trimmings. Look at your progress, from a distance, frequently.


All prunings make good kindling once dried. Raspberry canes can be recycled as short pea sticks, while disease- and pest-free prunings, especially evergreens, can be used to make wildlife shelters. If you have a shredder they can be processed and then composted. But to prevent any build-up of pests and diseases, infected material should be burnt as soon as possible. It is usually sensible to burn brutally thorny material, such as bramble stems, as well. Thus burning things is a necessary evil. It should preferably be burnt piecemeal in a stove to warm the house.

However, if you are about to have a bonfire, please drag it to bits and burn it a little at a time. This will save any hedgehogs and other creatures from a horrible death, and a small hot bonfire is far better ecologically than a great smouldering pile.

Bonfires burn best when air can get underneath, so use some bricks and old metal posts to raise them off the ground. Try to wait until the wind is light, steady and blowing away from anything that might take harm. Light a small, fierce fire with dry kindling, and add material steadily as it burns away. When only glowing lumps remain, quench the fire with just enough water to put it out, but no more. Save any lumps of charcoal for barbecues and the ashes for the gooseberries, roses and cooking apples.

04. January 2011 by admin
Categories: Featured, Garden Care, Weed Control | Tags: | Comments Off on Maintaining a Garden – Keeping it Naturally Beautiful


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