10 Garden Jobs You Can Stop Doing

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Robert Pavlis

Most gardeners work far too hard. Why? Because a lot of books and web sites tell you it’s the only way to keep plants growing well. As a young, inexperienced gardener I followed all the advice but over the years I have developed a new style of gardening. I now only do the work that is required.

This blog will save you hundreds of hours of work each year.

In this post I will reveal 10 things that you can stop doing in the garden because they are not needed by your plants. The focus in this post will be on ornamental gardens (perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees). In another post I will deal with vegetable gardens specifically.

Garden Jobs You Can Stop Doing
Gardening the right way

Why Change?

A lot of my new knowledge comes from observing nature. She keeps things simple and the result is that almost every bit of ground is covered with plants. I have also learned a lot by trying to understand the chemistry and biology  that is going on in the garden and this leads to new insights that clearly show many gardening traditions serve no purpose and some are myths that never worked.

I have developed the KISS philosophy for gardening. KISS = keep it simple stupid.

Stop Fall Cleanup

In fall everything is dying back and going to sleep and gardeners seem to have a need to clean things up before the snow falls. It’s not good for the garden for many reasons.

Microbe Science for Gardeners Book, by Robert Pavlis
  • Standing seed heads feed birds in winter.
  • Dead plant material on the ground gives insects a place to hide over winter. Nine out of ten bugs in the garden are good bugs and will help keep pests under control in future years.
  • Standing stems help collect snow which in turn keeps the crown of plants warmer.

Don’t Rake Leaves Out of the Garden

Leaves will protect plant roots from cold in winter. Think of them as a warm blanket. Even in spring it is not necessary to rake leaves out of the garden provided that you don’t have too many. They will decompose over the summer and help feed the microbes in the soil as well as the plants in your garden.

If you have more than 3 inches of leaves in spring, rake some off and move them into beds without leaves. Or compost the extra.

There are some special plants that can not tolerate being wet due to leaves. I remove the leaves from my raised rock garden since it contains several sensitive alpine plants. But most plants are just fine under a covering of leaves.

The other exception is the lawn. Grass dies under a layer of leaves because it is trying to grow even in very cold temperatures. Rake leaves off the grass and put them into garden beds.

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Stop Composting

Composting is good for the garden and it is necessary to deal with kitchen waste, but I stopped composting garden waste quite a few years ago. I now use the cut and drop technique. Whenever you are in the garden and you cut some plant material, drop it in the garden. Things near the front of the bed can be thrown behind a larger plant near the back.

This works great with all of the plant material you cut back in spring, as well as any deadheading you do later in the year.

Nature will do the composting for you right in the garden and by fall, all of the spring and summer stuff is gone, ready for fall leaves.

My two exceptions are very large branches that are trimmed off trees or shrubs, and very tall thick ornamental grasses. The branches get carried away and pilled up to provide a natural home for animals and protection for birds. The grasses could be cut smaller and left in the garden, but it is less work to leave them long and carry them away.

Stop Collecting Egg Shells

Egg shells do not decompose in the garden unless your soil is very acidic and you pulverize them to dust. They also don’t stop slugs. Saving, baking and crushing them is just a waste of time.

If you have chickens – they will eat them. If you don’t have chickens you might as well throw them away.

Don’t Remove Thatch From Your Lawn

Some thatch is good for lawns and many gardens do not have enough. If you have less than 1/2″ you don’t have too much thatch, in fact you might not have enough.

Going out on the first warm day in spring seems like a great time to rake thatch, but walking on wet grass compacts the soil which is not good for the lawn. Unless you have too much, removing thatch is not good for the lawn. It shades roots and keeps them cool, it prevents weeds from germinating, reduces evaporation and it slowly decomposes to feed the grass. It’s natures mulch for lawns.

Stop Fertilizing

What? No fertilizer? How will the plants grow?

Have a look around in natural settings. Who is fertilizing the plants? Nobody. The soil is full of nutrients. Plants remove some of those nutrients – but only a very small amount. Animals eat some of the plants and return the nutrients to the soil as poop. Plants die or die back and the plant material decomposes to return the nutrients to the soil. Falling leaves do the same thing.

Natural settings don’t need to be fertilized because nutrients never leave the site. Your ornamental garden is the same. If you don’t remove the dead plant material you do not lose nutrients and there is no reason to fertilize.

Fertilize only in a couple of special cases. Vegetable gardens are used to harvest food, so you are removing nutrients – they might benefit from some fertilizer. If you have a soil test done and it shows a deficiency, add only the missing nutrients. Containers are not normal gardens and use artificial soil; they need to be fertilized. Lawns do better with extra nitrogen, but if you spray for weeds, they don’t need to be fertilized.

If your ornamental perennials, trees or shrubs are growing and flowering, they do not need to be fertilized.

Stop Watering So Much

New plants need to be kept moist for the first year, but this does not mean you should water every day. You water only when the soil starts to dry out and nobody on the internet can tell you how often that is. Stick your finger in the soil and see if it is dry.

After the first year, most landscapes do not need to be watered on a regular basis. This does depend very much on your local rain fall, but most people water too much.

Cold climate lawn grasses should just be allowed to go dormant in summer – don’t water them to keep them green.

Most ornamental plants do not need to be watered after the first year except when it does not rain for a while. My garden will go without water, including rain, for 4 weeks without any problem. Most years I don’t water at all and we routinely go 2 weeks without rain.

Gardens that are mulched need far less water than those that are not mulched.

When you do water, water deeply, and then don’t water again until it is really needed.

Many gardeners water incorrectly and kill plants: Learn to Water Correctly.

Stop Wrapping Trees in Burlap

Wrapped trees are not warmer than unwrapped trees. They do not need to be wrapped in winter.

There is some small benefit from a wind barrier for newly planted evergreens. This reduces water loss which can be important when the tree has a small root system. Deciduous trees don’t lose much moisture in winter since they are not photosynthesizing, so they don’t need to be protected.

Some people wrap trees to prevent ice damage. Wrapping string around the tree to hold branches vertical also works.

An even better solution is to plant evergreens that don’t suffer so much from ice damage. Replace upright junipers with spruce or pine.

Stop Hilling Up Roses

It is common practice to hill up roses for winter by piling soil over them. Then in spring this extra soil needs to be removed.

There are thousands of roses to choose from. If you buy roses that are hardy in your location you don’t need to hill them up.

In colder climates bury the graft union below the soil level to provide extra cold protection. Better still buy hardy roses that are on their own roots.

Don’t Buy Every New Plant on the Market

Every year growers come out with the latest, greatest new cultivar. The problem is that they are being introducing far too soon. They should be tested longer and culled much more to make sure they are garden worthy.

A few years ago, hundreds of different heuchera were introduced and people bought them by the carload. Unfortunately, they were not bred for long life in warm humid summer climates. In the Eastern US and Canada they all died after a year or two. I bought over a dozen myself only to replace the empty holes with something else. What a waste of time and money.

Same story for repeat blooming Hydrangea macrophylla, like Endless Summer, and the many new colors of Echinacea purpurea. The hydrangea were not as hardy as claimed and never reflowered and the echinacea never returned after winter. This is zone specific and these plants might do quite well where you live – they don’t in zone 5.

Don’t rush to buy every new plant. If it is a really good plant it will be around for many years and you can buy it after everyone else has tried it out.

References:

  1. Photo source: Inessa Akhmedova
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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

10 thoughts on “10 Garden Jobs You Can Stop Doing”

  1. Endless Summer must be designed for warmer areas. Im in zone 7, US SE. They bloom all summer, after year 2. Still blooming in mid Oct right now. One thing Ive noticed is they need quite a bit of sun to continuously bloom. Occassionally, we will get a late spring frost or early late winter warm up resulting in delay of the 1st blooms.

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  2. I totally agree with your comments about Endless Summer. I have it for 10 years. It only bloomed once and it was blue instead of the pink I chose. My sister grows it in Ohio and she fertilizers the heck out of it but it blooms for her.

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  3. Here in SE UK it stopped raining for about 3 months and was hotter than normal for most of that time. I didn’t water my ornamentals (trees, shrubs and perennials) at all. There may have been some leakage from pots, which obviously I had to water, but it would have been minimal and shallow. Some plants slowed down a bit, but came back with great enthusuasm as soon as it rained. Watering ornamentals in the ground definitely comes under my heading LTS: life’s too short. (My other codes are MDN: must do now; MDS: must do soon; MDW: must do whenever; CBA: can’t be ..er.. bothered. I’ve found these very useful!)

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  4. Great article! Some of it is just common sense but that is something that isn’t used to often anymore. I certainly learned some new info!! Thanks!

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  5. I agree with everything except the last one. If all the other gardeners have the new plants and I don’t, how do I get to be one of the Cool Kids? I’m always late to the party. 🙁 I think I found something new and wonderful and someone always says, “Oh, I’ve had that for years.”

    That being said, I have saved myself many, many hours of garden labour by following all the rest of your excellent advice. I’ve also saved a ton of money on unnecessary fertilizers.

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