Cheating on garden and yard tasks is part attitude adjustment, part shortcuts, and part simplicity—with a healthy dose of making clever choices. You'll discover effective and efficient methods to complete just about every garden project, chore, cleanup, or predicament you'll face.
Set aside the things you've done for years and discover:
- How the right tool can save you time—and save your back
- That doing less for your lawn actually means better results
- Why planting a diversion crop cuts down on your pest-patrol efforts
- That groundcovers and foliage plants are no-hassle solutions for weedy flowerbeds
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The CHEATING FRAME of MIND
Home gardening is the very definition of complexity. It boggles the mind when you sit down to calculate the possible combinations of plants, soil conditions, tools, personal tastes, geography, temperature, precipitation, and pests. It's enough to throw a gardener off his or her gourd. Well, How to Cheat enthusiasts carry a banner that reads, "Simplicity--with Attitude." So for all of you who dare to take up hand pruners and step out the back door, your mind swimming with a zillion possibilities, here's a set of simplifying principles, gleaned from the host of experts I have encountered in my research. These observations will help you clarify, reduce, and focus as you garden. These ideas will put you in the right frame of mind to take serious shortcuts, to ignore the things that aren't important, and to set your own priorities--which is to say: to cheat.
Other low-maintenance strategies, which you'll come across in later chapters, are: Grow low-maintenance plants, be frugal, re-use and recycle, and ignore the conventional rules.
1. Gardening Has No End Point
Your garden is an ongoing, perpetually unfinished masterpiece. When you make mistakes, there's always a new season around the corner in which you can apply the lessons learned. This way, your garden gets better and better. Also, there's never a time when you smack the dirt off of your hands and proclaim, "Finally, my garden is done!"
2. It All Starts with the Earth
In just about every gardening pursuit, your success or failure hinges mightily on the quality of the soil that you are working with. This is called the POTS principle (Priority One: The Soil), so named because your author is addicted to shameless acronyms, as you will see.
3. Mother Nature Is More Powerful Than You
As indicated in the quote on page x from the lyrical garden writer Charles Fenyvesi, nature is calling the shots in your garden. You would be well advised to employ the SAIL approach (Stand Aside, Interfere Little) when working with nature. Don't fight natural forces. Instead, use them to accomplish your goals.
4. Feel Free to Make Mistakes--and Learn
Get the best advice you can, try something, and learn from your mistakes. Gardening, like cooking, is not an exact science. Nevertheless, in the kitchen you're accustomed to precise ingredient lists and instructions for your recipes. But gardening is a hundred times more complex than that, with zillions of variables that will affect the success or failure of your garden. Such factors include climate, soil conditions, the materials you buy, the health of your plants, your maintenance habits, and even traditions ("Grandma always did it this way.")
5. Take a Risk and Make Gardening Fun
You got into gardening to express yourself, to learn new things, and to be amazed at what will grow and blossom. So by all means, make your outdoor passion fun. In the hundreds of decisions you will make every day, take some risks, experiment, try a little whimsy, go a little crazy, and do the unexpected.
6. Use Your Garden as a Place of Therapy
Think of your garden as a therapeutic place, not a place of work. In the morning, take the newspaper out to your garden with an espresso. Sip, read, and contemplate. Stop and breathe deeply (and, yes, smell the roses). Later, after a stressful day of work, go out to the garden and pull some weeds--it can be a calming and meditative experience. Breathe deeply and feel the sun on your face. Listen to the songs of birds. Sure, go ahead and talk to your plants. They won't answer--which is therapeutic in a reaffirming way, because you're always right. When you do talk to your plants, your neighbors will stay far away from you, too. Let the garden become a place of comfort and renewal, and you'll look forward to being there as often as possible.
7. Know Where You Are Going
Having a plan for your landscape lowers the amount of gardening and yard work that you will have to do. This is what's called the HAPS principle (Have A Plan, Stan--known among less polite gardeners as Have a Plan, Stupid).
8. Work Hard to Make Gardening Easy
Here's a sad reality about human nature: The more steps you add to a task, and the more barriers you throw in the way of accomplishing that task, the less likely it is to be accomplished. So consider your gardening practices, your seasonal expectations, and your composting process, for example: Are there any steps that you can eliminate? How about watering? Or mowing? Or leaf raking? Also, review your tool storage, keeping in mind the Accessibility Theorem: "A task will be accomplished on a frequency that is inversely proportional to the distance between the site of the task and the location of materials necessary to perform it." That is, if it's a hassle to get to your tools and other gear, less work gets done.
9. Know When to Call In a Pro
Professionals in the gardening and landscaping business all have sad tales to tell about customers who didn't know when to stop and pick up the telephone. Hundreds of dollars too late, they're weeping into the phone, pleading for help. So keep the HIRE criteria in mind for any project in your garden or landscape: When a task is Hard, Important, Rarely done, and Elaborate, then pick up the phone and HIRE a professional. Gardeners, landscapers, and designers have the training and the equipment to do such jobs properly, safely, and economically.
On the other hand, if the task is a Super-Easy Lightweight Fix (SELF), the job goes to you-know-whom.
10. Award Yourself Two Points for Shortcuts
It's human nature to respond to incentives. So as you go about your gardening duties--pruning, planting, turning the compost, picking bugs off of your flowers--picture a scoreboard in your head. Every time that you cheat--that is, use a sneaky shortcut or save yourself some unexpected time or aggravation--award yourself two points. In this case, TWO stands for Thinking Wins Out.
Mel's 5 Mind-Blowing Truths about Gardening
Mel Bartholomew is the gardening author who pioneered the revolutionary concept of square foot gardening, a technique recently updated in his new book All New Square Foot Gardening. Appalled at the time-wasting, effort- wasting, money-wasting practices he witnessed among home gardeners, Bartholomew applied his engineering skills to devise a simpler, easier way. This makes him a hero to cheat-at-gardening enthusiasts. You will find out more about Square Foot Gardening in Chapter 6, but for now ponder these five truths about gardening that Bartholomew shared with me.
1. Gardening is not complicated, it is not difficult, and it is not hard work. You don't need any special expertise. If you manage your garden well, nature does all of the work. All you have to do is provide the proper conditions: the ideal soil (loose, crumbly, and both quick-draining and moisture-holding), correct spacing of plants, and freedom from weeds.
2. Less is more. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Also: Reduce, reduce, reduce. Enthusiastic gardeners are prone to making their gardens too big and too complicated--particularly in spring. As summer weeks wear on, row after row of garden plants plead for attention, weeds are having a field day, and watering becomes a dreadful chore. So the discouraged gardeners start neglecting their gardens. Your garden actually requires a small fraction of the space you think it does. If you learn to control the size of your garden, you will be able to maintain it in small spurts of activity and you will have fewer gardening chores all around.
3. You don't have to plant the entire seed packet at once. There can be hundreds of seeds in a seed packet. If you tap them all out as you stroll down a garden row, you're going to have to thin out a zillion teensy plants when they start popping up all jammed together. Kind soul that you are, you won't be able to bring yourself to destroy all of the plants that you should. Therefore, your plants will grow up overcrowded, less healthy, and less productive. And you will have worked harder than you would have if you had kept your planting under control.
4. No, you don't have to turn or till your garden soil every spring. In Square Foot Gardening, there is no digging. Push your rototiller out to the curb and leave it there. Park your shovel in the back corner of your shed with the other rarely used items.
5. For a better vegetable garden, add some flowers. Why is it a good idea to intersperse flowers with your vegetables? Smarty-pants that you are, your mind has probably turned to the concept of "companion gardening," the idea that when certain plants are paired in the garden, they naturally protect each other from pests and disease. That's true, but here's the real reason to plant flowers among your vegetables, says Bartholomew: They're pretty. When you have stopped snickering, consider this: When your garden is pretty, you will go out to it more often to tend it and admire it. When you're more interested in your own garden, you will start getting better feedback from other people who see it. Thus inspired, you will take even better care of your garden, and it will grow better and provide better vegetables and flowers. As if those weren't enough reasons, consider this as well: When you're out there picking salad for lunch, you also get to pick a few flowers for the table.
Table of Contents
Introduction One Incredible Tip, Alone Worth the Price of This Book x
Chapter 1 The Cheating Frame of Mind 1
Chapter 2 Soil: A Healthy Garden, from the Ground Up 9
Chapter 3 Vegetables: The Juiciest Shortcuts 29
Chapter 4 The Sweet 16: Experts' Favorite Can't-Miss Veggie Varieties 73
Chapter 5 Sneaky Garden and Yard Design 99
Chapter 6 Sub-Plots: Raised Beds, Containers, Rooftops, and More 151
Chapter 7 The Rot Stuff: The World's Easiest Composting 185
Chapter 8 Flowers Made Easy-Even for Late Bloomers 209
Chapter 9 Grass: Bringing Peace to the Turf War 235
Chapter 10 Trees and Shrubs: Trimming Down the Maintenance 261
Chapter 11 The Handiest Tools and Sneakiest Storage 299
Chapter 12 Seasonal Challenges: Weeds, Leaves, Snow, Ice, Heat, Drought, and Deluge 321
Chapter 13 At Peace with Mother Nature: Bugs, Bunnies, Bambi, Groundhogs, and More 333
Recommended Reading 355
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