10 Great Garden Improvement Projects Based on How Much Time You Have
If you found yourself spending more time and money on your garden than ever last year, you’re not alone.
According to an analysis of retail giant Walmart’s supply chain, the pandemic shutdown led to an “unprecedented” demand for lawn and garden items last year. Plus, a survey conducted this year for the International Casual Furnishings Association revealed that 78% of Americans made outside upgrades during COVID-19.
And while the sudden rise in popularity of gardening can be linked to everyone spending more time at home, many experts believe this particular shift in behavior may be permanent.
Having an attractive garden not only improves your own quality of life, it may also increase your home’s value. Curb appeal counts for a lot when selling a home, and most buyers are going to fall in love with your place if your landscaping is top notch.
With the spring season upon us, there’s no better time to put a little extra effort into maintaining or fixing up your garden. But how much time? Well, that’s up to you. Assess your schedule for the next week (or weekend), and take on one of the projects below.
If you have 5 minutes
In just a few minutes, you can head out to the garden and “pull big weeds and do a quick inspection of your plants to spot early signs of disease,” says Erinn Witz, a Rockford, IL–based garden expert and the co-founder of seedsandspades.com, an educational website for gardening enthusiasts.
Check for wilting or discolored leaves on your crops. (You might also want to do an internet search for the type of plant and diseases to better educate yourself on what you’ll encounter.)
“If you have a vegetable garden, you can take 5 minutes to look and see if anything’s ready to harvest,” Witz says.
Another important maintenance task is ensuring your garden has adequate—but not too much—moisture.
“The proper amount of water is needed to grow plants successfully,” says Heather Yan, a San Francisco–based garden expert and the founder of Learn Planting. Keep in mind that too much water is actually worse than not enough.
The best way to test moisture initially is by feel. Dig your finger as far as you can into the soil: If it feels damp, the moisture is sufficient. You can also insert a trowel and tilt it to check the moisture levels. Like the classic toothpick/cake test, if the trowel comes out completely clean, the soil is dry. If it comes out with crumbs of soil, it’s damp. Soil should be damp down to the roots, about 6 to 12 inches down.
If you have 30 minutes
With a half-hour’s time, you can tackle serious pests in your garden and ensure that plants will thrive in the coming weeks.
“Thirty minutes is the perfect amount of time for maintenance and troubleshooting,” says Shelby DeVore, founder of Farminence in Middleton, TN. “Check your plants over carefully, and look for signs of pests. If you notice any, remove them by hand and drop them into a bucket of soapy water.”
Many gardeners, especially those with children and pets, want to avoid using chemicals in their gardens, so dropping pests in soapy water is an old-fashioned but effective and safe method of elimination. Some people take it a step further and mix about 1 tablespoon soap per 1 quart water in a spray bottle, and coat the infected plants from top to bottom. Make sure you are using hand soap, not dishwashing detergent, which can harm plants.
Cost: Free (with basic in-home supplies)
Another way to ensure happy plants in the future is to fertilize your garden. Fertilizers are naturally produced, and should be added to gardens to provide nutrients and sustain growth. Generally, they should be applied every three to four weeks during the growing season. If staying chemical-free is a concern, there are now organic fertilizers that are widely available at any major garden supply store.
“It’s important to water your plants thoroughly before applying fertilizer,” says DeVore. “That helps the plants soak in the fertilizer.”
Cost: $12-plus for a bag of fertilizer
If you have 1 hour
A full hour gives you enough time to curate a little seating area to really enjoy the garden you’ve been toiling over.
“Find a place right near your garden to either place a cafe table and chairs, or set a bench on the perimeter,” says Andra DelMonico, lead designer for Trendey in Sarasota, FL. “I love to see clients create spaces where they can admire the fruit of their hard work.”
Cost: $100-plus for a simple bench; $150-plus for a cafe table and chair set
Adding perennials to the area around your mailbox is an easy way to add brightness and beauty to your yard.
“In most cases, the mailbox is at the entry of the property, so it’s a great place to add a touch of color,” says landscape designer Elizabeth Johnson, of Morriston, NJ’s Fullerton Grounds Maintenance. “Choose bright colors and one perennial per season that doesn’t require a lot of care.”
If you have 3 hours
The quality of your garden’s soil will vastly improve with a little aeration and rototilling. (It’s the garden equivalent of a deep pore facial treatment.)
“Even if your vegetable or flower garden gets adequate water and sunlight, the soil needs to be aerated occasionally for optimum health and lushness,” says Elle Meager, founder of Outdoor Happens in Phoenix.
“If you haven’t planted yet, now’s the time to rototill,” says Meager. “That gives your new plant or seedlings the best opportunity to take root. If the garden is already in, aerate the soil with a spike aerator or small hoe to loosen up hard clumps of soil.” The process allows vital nutrients like oxygen and water access to the plant’s roots.
Cost: $65-plus for a rototiller, $25-plus for a spike aerator
If your garden is in good shape but lacks a certain aesthetic oomph, consider adding edging.
“There are so many directions you could take this in,” says DelMonico. “You could use wood beams for a rustic touch. Or, for a more polished and elegant look, bricks or pavers are a great option. Metal strips are the way to go if you want a contemporary feel.”
Installing edging is a doable DIY project for an afternoon, requiring little to no skill, especially because any imperfections will look less obvious in a garden setting.
Cost: $10 to $15 per square foot for timbers; $12 to $18 per square foot for bricks and stones; $3-plus per square foot for metal; $40 for 60 feet of plastic edging
If you have a weekend
Two solid days gives you enough time to build a raised bed, or even create a garden from scratch.
A raised bed is ideal for gardeners who have a small space. (It can fit on a balcony or patio.) It’s also a great way to dip your toe into gardening, Yan says, because you can manage every detail, from the soil to the moisture level. Because they’re densely planted, raised beds also tend to have fewer pest and weed issues.
To create a raised garden bed, you first need to pick a spot. Check and make sure it gets an appropriate amount of sunlight for the items you’re planting. Next, either purchase a pre-made raised bed or create your own with untreated lumber. Make sure it’s at least 10.5 inches deep.
Once you have your bed, fill it with a mix or nutrient-rich soil and compost, ideally making it about 60% topsoil, 30% compost, and 10% potting soil. Then plant the appropriate vegetables or flowers based on your plant hardiness zone.
Cost: All in, $125-plus for the supplies and materials for creating a raised bed
If you have your heart set on an old-fashioned garden, fret not. A weekend is plenty of time. One type of gardening that is gaining favor is companion gardening, says Johnson. This is the process of planting two plants side by side to increase the biodiversity of the soil itself, help combat pests, and attract pollinators.
To create a companion garden, plan on taking up at least 7 feet by 4 feet. Examples of plant companions that work well together are tomatoes and lettuce, green beans and corn, and onions and carrots.
Cost: $4-plus for vegetable plants