Gardening doesn't have to be back-breaking work, nor does it need to consume all your free time. These five simple tips and tricks will make your garden chores a breeze, so that you can spend more time enjoying it out there.
#1 Water the ground before you weed or dig. Before you wrestle with your weeding fork or try to jam that shovel into impenetrable clay, wet the soil and let it rest for a few hours while the water seeps in deep and loosens everything up. Moist soil is much easier to work with and you're more likely to pull the weed out with its root when there's some give from the earth.
#2 Keep a weed bucket close by. Often times when I'm harvesting or watering, I'll find a few errant weeds between my plants that I pull out by hand. But I don't want to interrupt my flow by walking over to the compost heap to toss them, and I know I'll forget if I just leave them on the ground. For these instances, I keep a couple of small pails (the kind you can buy from the dollar store) in different corners of my garden and quickly throw my weeds in there. Sometimes I'll even carry them around if I know I have some major weeding to do. The pails are emptied into the compost heap when they're full (whether once a week or once a month), which saves time and effort.
#3 Lay down cardboard to smother weeds. If you have an infestation of weeds in your garden but the thought of manually weeding it all -- or spraying Roundup everywhere -- gives you chills, try this shortcut: Disassemble a few large cardboard boxes so they're flat, then spread them out over the weeds. Cover the cardboard with several inches of organic mulch. The cardboard will decompose naturally with the mulch while killing all the weeds by depriving them of sunlight. Within a few months, you should have a healthy bed of soil where there once was a weed jungle!
#4 Mulch with compost. Rather than making or buying your mulch and fertilizer separately, use a fine, nutrient-rich compost (such as aged manure) as your mulch. Spread the compost on your soil in a thick layer; not only will the soil benefit from the protective qualities of mulch, but every time you water your garden, you're watering those nutrients in to the ground and feeding your plants at the same time.
#5 Make a twine dispenser out of a clay pot. Twine is one of those things that I always need when I least expect it. A simple ball of twine is useful for making trellises, tying vines to stakes, training tree limbs to grow a certain way, bundling together herbs for drying, and more. To keep yours handy and tangle-free, stick a ball of twine into a clay pot, pull the end of the string through the drainage hole, and flip the pot right side up. Instant twine dispenser for the garden!