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20 Tips for Gardeners on the Go

There’s no getting around it—cultivating a beautiful landscape is a lot of work. But you can labor more efficiently (and joyously) when you master a few shortcuts. These time-saving tips cover everything from tilling and tending to plant choices and pruning, letting you make the most of your minutes in the garden.

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gardening tools and soil on a wood background; Shutterstock ID 162547868; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of HomeShutterstock / Aggie 11

Start with good soil

Work in compost, manure or dried peat moss for nutrient-rich planting beds. Amended soil is lighter, drains well, makes for easy weeding and allows roots to establish themselves more quickly. What’s square foot gardening? Find out here.

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Old garden tools; Shutterstock ID 526126981malialeon/Shutterstock

Keep tools handy

Stash a spare set of hand tools and garden twine in a waterproof container in your garden. When you spot weeds, broken rose canes or a stem that needs tying up, you won’t have to run to the garage or potting shed for supplies. We’ve got even more great tips for gardening here.

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shutterstock_37267939 mowing the lawn checker pattern grassPRESNIAKOV OLEKSANDR/Shutterstock

Mow less


Limit grassy areas to reduce time spent on lawn chores. Combine trees, shrubs, boulders and decorative mulches to fashion eye-catching, maintenance-free island beds in your front and back yards.

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rain/CHOKCHAI POOMICHAIYA/shutterstock

Play in the rain


There’s no better time to visit a garden center than during a cloudburst. Nurseries are less crowded, lines are shorter, and staff members are more available to answer your questions. Once the rain eases, go out and pull weeds—even clumps of crabgrass and deep-rooted dandelions pull easily out of wet soil.

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potDel Boy/shutterstock

Don’t wear yourself out planting in shaded sites with poor soil

When you can’t get anything to grow beneath trees or along fences, set up a multitiered container garden in the shady location. Plant shade-loving perennials and compact shrubs in appropriately sized containers; set the containers on stands in varying heights. Or use simple green pots that blend into the background, and won’t compete with the flowering show.

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walk Nares Suklap/shutterstock

Look around


When walking or driving, take note of interesting plants and plant combinations. Write them down and take the list with you to the nursery—having an itemized list will speed up your shopping trips and reduce the urge to impulse-buy. Check out some incredible gift ideas for gardeners here.

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HH Handy Hint How to fertilize dense plants PVCFamily Handyman

Fertilize less often


Nourish gardens and containers with time-release fertilizers that continue feeding for long periods of time.

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mulch and perennialsFamily Handyman

Avoid invaders


Choose well-behaved perennials that don’t send out runners—you’ll have more time for enjoying your gardens if you don’t have to keep your borders runner-free.

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via Lefty's the Left Hand Store

Prune wisely


Wait to prune evergreens, such as yews and box-wood, until they’ve produced most of their new growth. As a result, you won’t have to prune them again until next year.

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garden path mulch

Take preventive measures


Add fresh mulch to your gardens every year. A 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch keeps weeds from sprouting and helps the soil retain water, so you’ll be weeding and watering less often.

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Hosta shrubSDeming/Shutterstock

Get an early start


Divide and transplant hosta as soon as you see leaf tips breaking through the ground—since the stems and leaves have yet to unfurl, it’ll be easy to cut the root-ball with a serrated knife. The planted divisions will leaf out beautifully in their new sites. You can divide and move fully leafed-out hosta, but you’re likely to break off leaves and stems in the process, which results in ragged-looking plants. These are the 10 gardening myths you need to stop believing ASAP.

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 Consider color


Don’t waste a second searching for misplaced hand tools. Buy trowels, cultivators, forks and pruners with bright red or orange handles so you can quickly spot them amid the greenery.

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shutterstock_527880916 raised garden beds vegetables plantsDel Boy/Shutterstock

Place them in sight

Plant vegetables and herbs in large containers placed near your back or front door. Since you’ll see them often, you’ll remember to keep them watered. And they’ll be nearby when you need dinner fixings!

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pad mihalec/shutterstock

Work smarter

Make sure your tools are clean and sharp— they’ll last longer and work better in the garden. Use ergonomically designed tools, knee pads, or kneeling mats to lessen stress on your joints—pain-free bodies also work more efficiently in the garden. Plus: Check out some other tips for avoiding knee pain while gardening.

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Take inventory

Make a running list of newly added plants and their locations—this will help you remember what you planted where, which will prevent the inadvertent weeding (and replacing) of a “good plant.” Save perennial-plant tags and store them near your favorite how-to gardening book—you’ll have all your planting information in one spot.

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plant Alexander Raths/shutterstock

Go native

Buy improved varieties of plants that are native to your region. They’ll thrive with very little care and are likely to be the best-looking plants in your garden.

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digOlegDoroshin/Shutterstock

Dig once; plant many

When you’ve got a bag of tulip or lily bulbs to plant, or when using annuals to edge a border, dig a large, single planting hole instead of many smaller holes. Make sure it’s large enough for all the bulbs or plants to prevent overcrowding.

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glovesRichard Peterson/shutterstock

Be prepared

At the beginning of the season, stock up on supplies like garden twine, twist ties, garden gloves, plant supports, plant markers and bags of compost to eliminate garden-center runs and the long lines on busy gardening days.

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purple larkspur red poppiesZeljko Radojko/Shutterstock

Let them do their thing

Choose plant varieties that readily self-seed, such as corydalis, larkspur and purple coneflower, or that quickly naturalize, such as daffodils and daylilies, to ll out borders inexpensively. Next, check out tips for the frugal gardener here.

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Take a tour

Walk around your gardens every day and check plants for pests and diseases—the sooner you spot a problem, the sooner you can take curative measures, which means less work later.