Garden Mulching Soil Improvement and/or preparation

Secrets to Almost Effortless Maintenance of Borders and Gardens

Thanksgiving day I worked in the yard for about 2 hours. I got to thinking while I was out there how glad I am that I don’t have to do all the work that a lot of gardeners think they have to do.

When I was at the funeral home the day before Betsy’s funeral, I saw an acquaintance who passes our house everyday as she goes to work.  She mentioned how beautiful my front yard is with all the flowers in bloom.  “I know it takes lots of work and time to make it that way,” she said.

I never know what to say to someone like that because I know they have visions of my spending most of my time outside in the yard working on making it beautiful.  I just said, “Not really” and let it go at that.  She would never have believed me if I told her how little time I spend.

As a matter of fact, the previous day I had spent one hour doing a couple of things in the front yard borders.  Before that I had not even been in the front yard for almost 4 months!

When I Work and How Long

I work in the yard mainly in cool weather.  I dislike the hot humid weather so I don’t do anything in the summer but harvest. Well, actually I make myself spend 5 minutes pulling weeds I come across when I visit the garden to harvest.  Harvesting takes 1 hour most of the time and two hours when blueberries and/or strawberries are in season.

My Secrets to Keeping a Lot with only a Little Work

If you’re a regular reader you know that we have a little over an acre with borders around the outside perimeter, borders in front of the house, wildflower islands in back, borders around the garden, and the enclosed garden area of about 65 feet x 40 feet. My secrets to keeping all this with very little work are very simple.

(# 1) Proper preparation when beginning  and (# 2) mulching a lot at least once every year.

The more deeply you prepare the soil, the better your borders/gardens will be.

Removing the sod/weeds during preparation – Keeps future maintenance to a minimum.

Important: Part of soil preparation is removing the sod/weeds. With flower borders, even if your soil was not as deeply prepared as your garden beds, you must still remove all the sod/weeds from the soil. This will help insure your success in keeping future maintenance to a minimum.

What Happens Then

Since everything is cumulative (increases in quantity and degree) over time, your gardens, borders, etc. will improve and get easier to work with each consistent successive action on your part.

For example:  When you first prepare soil you take all the grass and weeds out.  For the first year or so you will have some reoccurring weeds and grass.  You pull them out before they seed and continue to mulch.  Eventually, even when wire grass creeps in from the edges — your soil will be so nice and so loose that it requires very little effort to take it out.  Even ground ivy that can crawl in from hard to reach edges will be easy to remove. Weeds that crop up can be addressed as you walk your borders.  With every year that passes, it will become easier and easier to keep the borders weed free.

Another Example:

I remember  early one spring when we were having some horrific problems with a guy who lived on the property behind ours.  For my safety, I was unable to spend any length of time in that area. The border needed weeding and naturally I was concerned about the weeds taking over. Since it was out of the question to spend the necessary time weeding, I decided to mulch heavily over the weeds and just hope that the borders would remain presentable while we waited for the situation to change.  It took a year and a half for that to happen.  In some places wire grass had crawled into the border  about 1 1/2 feet on the inside edge.  Amazingly, it came out easily.  It was weed free with only a few hours of work after a year and a half of not being tended!

As a rule, I never have to make weeding a job or chore.  I just do it here and there as I tour my borders or as I happen past.

My Secrets

My secrets for easy maintenance in any of your borders  are basically only two “chores”.

  • The first is the initial preparation of the soil which only has to be done once and never again.
  • The second is mulching heavily which need only be done once a year.

These two chores make keeping your borders easy and save tons of time and effort in the long run.  You and I will probably be the only ones that know you don’t spend all your time outdoors tending your yard.


Related Posts:

Weeding – Never Make It a Job

Help Your Flowers and Vegetables to Thrive

3 Things of Primary Importance When Starting a Garden


Organic gardening is easy, effective, efficient — and it’s a lot healthier!


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  • Theresa, I can understand why people don’t believe you!! I find weeding to be a full-time chore. As you’ve said before, it’s because I’m not mulching, or not mulching enough. I’m amazed at the size of the garden you maintain between flowers and veg.
    When I saw the picture of the large round bale in one of your mulching posts – (I’d imagined a small square bale) I was pretty sure it was just a stock photo. NOW, though – I realize this is an actual bale showing the actual amount of straw you really do use. RIGHT?!? Do you get through a whole bale in a gardening year?

  • Sandra, I can literally say that I am amazed at the size of the garden and borders I maintain. Especially when I can hardly walk and I am so slow that someone seeing me would wonder how in the world I get anything done! And I don’t spend that much time in the yard. (Just consistent about the time I do spend.)

    Someone else wrote to me recently and said they wished I would show pictures of my gardens and borders. I was flabbergasted!!!!!!! All the hundreds of photos on my site ARE of MY garden and borders. I don’t use any stock photos. I had not realized that people were thinking they were stock photos. Bill has taken every one of them.

    Regarding the bale of straw ——-that was my backup bale. I try to always keep at least one on hand. I have 3 of those sitting in that spot right now. I use at least 4 of them a year. Sometimes more!

    All this hot humid weather in the summer oxidizes mulch away pretty quickly.

  • I am interested in getting into flower borders, after a long seige of bone problems. Your site seems like it is made to order for me. Thanks

  • Thank you for all this wonderful information.

    Would you be able to address the concern some of my neighbors have shared with me about carpenter ants and termites infesting my mulch areas. I have seen carpenter ants and have started planting cat nip (and other mint seeds) and thyme along the edge of all the places I have mulch. (I have a mulch trail around my entire house basically…).

    I also sprinkle around the perimeter of the house with coffee grounds from Starbucks (very large amount), and pit and trench compost with kitchen scraps always plentiful with onion and garlic scraps which I believe ants and termites dislike). And finally, I keep the organic, unweathered, wood chips about 2-3 feet from the foundation of the house)…

    Are there other things to do to deter termites and carpenter ants from getting too comfortable around my mulch. Mulch is just amazing- my plants have never looked healthier. Amazing.

  • Hi Rachelle,
    Beneficial nematodes work great for so many pests in the ground — termites is one
    When we first moved here 22 years ago — termites swarmed that spring. I ordered the nematodes that are for termites and I’ve not had any trouble since then. I use them every
    year to be on the safe side.

    Here’s the link for the nematodes that kill the thrips .

    There are also ones that kill the ants and/or the queen. They don’t specifically indicate carpenter ants so you may want to call Arbico and ask them.

    When we moved here I had parades of ants in my kitchen and sunroom. Also out side my back door. I used nematodes and they disappeared. I sometimes skip a year for the ants and that seems to work fine.

    Hope this helps. It wonderful to have these living organisms that solve these problems for me. If only people knew they don’t need poison for termites or ants.

    At this link you can look under each of the 3 kinds of nematodes to find what pest the destory.

    Hope you and your neighbors will find this helpful.

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