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Help for the Non Gardener

By Joan Bergsund, a UCCE Tuolumne County Master Gardener since l996. – So, you don´t like to garden? Let´s offer some help to the non-gardeners among us.

There are many people who consider the garden just one big chore, and take little pleasure in the planning, preparation and planting—let alone the pruning and pinching. For instance, some people have moved to the foothills, purchased a new home and have been overwhelmed at the prospect of landscaping the property. Some have purchased homes with landscaping in place, decisions having been made by the previous owner. What to do? Frankly, these dear people just don´t want to spend time and energy working in the garden, even if they once enjoyed the activity. The golf course is more appealing, or the cruise described in the latest travel brochure, or embarking on some form of community service.

For these folks, let´s talk minimal. For a new home waiting for landscaping think less, rather than more. You want your property to look cared for, and a few well chosen shrubs will always enhance the appearance of the structure. You´ll want plants that will maintain their good looks, with minimal care, from one season to the next. You should also be aware of the “fire safe” concept, and avoid creating lush plantings near the home that would endanger the structure should fire ever threaten. Consider a selection of native shrubs that will be drought tolerant once established and deer resistant. And say good-by to a lawn. With careful planning the interface between the cultivated and natural environments should be gradual and appear natural.

Where to begin? Why not stroll around an older neighborhood and see what looks good to you. Check out the shrubs and trees around the older homes in downtown Sonora, for instance. You can see how mature plantings enhance a home. Some of these plantings date from the Gold Rush era.

Or check out minimal landscapes as you drive around Tuolumne County. Native trees and shrubs, such as oaks and manzanita, can be beautiful, stand-alone, specimen landscape plants. Notice gardens where mulch, wood chips, or gravel take the place of lawns and paved walkways.

Also notice that a variety of leaf sizes and textures, a range of the color green, a variation in height and spread produce the most interesting and satisfactory sight. If shrubs have a bloom, consider this a bonus. Some should be evergreen, some will be deciduous.

Forget about annual flowers as they take the time and effort you are trying to avoid. If you prefer some colorful flowers, you can purchase an already-assembled “color bowl” to highlight a doorway.

Naturalized “lawn” in the foothills can be “mowed” with a weed eater, one to three times during the entire summer, and requires no water. Keep it as simple as possible.

You might consider working with a professional who can prepare and enhance the soil, make suggestions regarding plant material, install an irrigation system and finally plant the species selected. With luck, and a little bit of oversight, this should allow you to leave home and like it. If you think you can handle the work yourself, first prepare a design of the foundation planting and not much else. Next, work on the soil, enhancing it with amendments. Install the basic irrigation system, allowing for emitters to be placed at each plant. Then visit the local nurseries. Study the plants, ask questions, and use your Sunset Western Garden manual for research. When you feel you´ve made a good selection of planting materials you´re ready to start planting.

Does this sound daunting? The process doesn´t need to happen overnight. It´s not likely that you´ll make all these decisions at once. Time is on your side, and you must allow it…to get good results.

How about the property that was landscaped by a previous owner? Scrutinize what you have and what you like. Can you discard any of the plantings? To help with these decisions get help from a professional or a knowledgeable friend. The goal is to minimize the work-load.

Right now, most gardens are overrun with weeds, following the heavy rains and early warm spells. It´s a humbling process, but you (or someone) must get down on hands and knees to pull or dig them out, one at a time. You can consider using a pre-emergent weed killer another year, or applying Preen at this time. Then you can mulch heavily – which will suppress later weeds and minimize loss of moisture. Mulching is the key to lower maintenance—it conserves soil moisture, decreases evaporation, and lowers soil temperatures.

For you non-gardeners, you can´t totally ignore your garden, but it doesn´t have to own you!

Joan Bergsund, a UCCE Tuolumne County Master Gardener since l996, is still pulling weeds and adding mulch to her garden.