Spring is on the way, which means there’s no time like the present to get your overgrown or neglected garden into tip top shape. But where to start? We talked to Seth Gold, owner of As Good as Gold Landscaping in the San Francisco Bay Area, to get his tips on everything you need to do to get your garden full of beautiful blooms. Dig in!
1. Assess Your Space
Gold says the first thing to do is take a complete assessment of your garden, starting with finding any hazards that need to be addressed. Are there broken branches that could hurt someone? A danger of tripping or falling because pathways are partially concealed or covered up? Are the stones or concrete on walkways covered in a slippery moss that needs to be pressured washed? You’ll want to deal with safety issues first so that you don’t have any issues once you get to work.
Next, Gold says, decide what needs to be pruned based on your sightlines. Is the view blocked? Can you not see your favorite plant in the backyard because it’s overgrown? Take note and make a plan for when work begins.
Finally, you’ll want to find any areas that may be so overgrown pests like raccoons, possums, or yes, even rats, may have made a home there. Gold points out these not only devalue your property, but they can also cause your neighbors to have infestations as well. But mostly, you just want to get rid of anything like that because who wants a family of possums living in the backyard?
2. Begin the Cleanup
Now that you’ve assessed the space and decided what work you’re going to do, Gold says it’s time to start the cleanup. Pull weeds, trim bushes and hedges, and make sure the trees are topped and thinned. Chances are a lot of material is going to come out of your garden during this part; Gold recommends you send it all to a green waste recycling place so that the process is environmentally friendly. You may also want to put in a weed retardant system if you find you’ve just pulled what seems like an excessive amount of weeds. Find one that’s environmentally responsible as well as kid and pet safe.
3. Investigate the Irrigation System
Gold points out the number one reason for plant death is a lack of watering. In fact, he says most lawns need to be watered every day for three to seven minutes and most plants need to be watered three times a week. Since the chances are good you’re not up for that kind of commitment, he recommends you install an irrigation system. This way any work you do going forward has a much better chance of surviving. Install a PVC system with pop-up heads for your lawn and a drip system on a separate valve for your perimeter beds, plants, and bulb gardens.
If you already have an irrigation system, Gold advises you get it audited before you start any work to make sure there are no leaks. Animals may have chewed on the drop irrigation system above soil and older galvanized tubing can rust and clog. Now’s the time to make sure all of the valves are functioning properly and the timer is working.
4. Think About the Plant Palette – and Get Planting
Gold suggests asking yourself are if you think there are enough plants already in your garden already so that it looks full or if there are empty spots where the weeds took over. The good thing about putting plants in, he says, is that they take up the space where weeds may otherwise grow.
Now’s also the time to figure out what kind of plants you want. First and foremost, Gold says you want to decide what you use the garden for. Are you looking out the window at it? Entertaining in it? Do you want a vegetable garden? Do you have children or pets? All of those things will help determine what types of plants you use, as well as the design.
5. Inspect Your Soil
You’ll also want to determine what kind of soil you have, so that you’re picking plants that will thrive in that soil. To do this at home, fill a mason jar halfway with soil from your garden. (Dig down about 12 inches and get a sample from the top of the whole to the bottom.) Then, take ¼ to ½ teaspoon of dishwashing soap and mix it with a cup of warm water. Put that into the mason jar and shake it really well so it’s nice and agitated. After a day or two, everyhting will settle into neat and even layers so you can see exactly what you’ve got in your soil. Voila!
Gold recommends filling at least half of your garden (if not all of it) with plants that are native to your area because they help support the local flora and fauna and have the best chance of thriving. But if you’re still stuck, pick a color palette you like (pretty pastels, bold red and oranges, etc.) as that will help you narrow down the selection even further.
6. Get Ready to Mulch and Compost
After the planning is done and everything is happy, Gold says it’s time to compost and mulch. Mulch helps protect the soil, stop weeds from growing, and (when used with compost) acts as a fertilizer, so it’s truly a crucial step. You can even ask your local tree trimming company if they’ll bring some to your house. Many of them are looking to unload their mulch and will do it for free. Just be sure the mulch doesn’t include eucalyptus.
Gold also strongly recommends you don’t use a weed cloth or filter fabric as mulch is on the surface where the sun is hitting to protect the soil and the organisms that live in the soil from being eradicated by the sun, but it also needs to work its way down into the dirt so it feeds the organisms that break everything down and fertilize the soil.
Gold says you’ll want to start with a fine layer of one-inch thick compost. Then, add at least three to four inches of mulch, but, he warns, be sure you don’t pile it against tree trunks, bushes, or around your plants. It doesn’t have to be perfect, he says, but you don’t want to smother your plants or cause moisture retention in stems or wood because that will cause your plants to rot and fail.
Gold says it’s also really important that you layer your mulch based on your soil conditions. If you have sandy soil, you may need to add clay. If you have acidic soil, you’ll want to add lime, etc. Over all you want the pH level to be around six or seven.
7. Time to Fertilize
People who mulch their soil without fertilizing at the same time will rob the soil of nitrogen, Gold says. And that can kill all of the little microorganisms who need that nitrogen to have energy to chow down and do their job. Fertilizing’s not just a one time deal though. Gold says you’ll want to do it three to four times a year with a product that is natural and has no oil products, specifically urea-formaldehyde, which is toxic to humans and pets (but found in a lot of the most common fertilizers out there.)
8. Maintain Your Gorgeous Garden
Okay, so technically this doesn’t fall into the getting your garden ready category, but since you made it this far, you’ll want to be sure weeds are pulled every month or every other month. (Pro tip: Companies like Gold’s can usually do it for under $100). Gold says even with four inches of mulch, you’re going to have a few weeds pop up and it’s important to pull them out because you don’t want the weeds to set seed and grow in the top of the mulch.
9. Enjoy the Fruits (and Vegetables and Flowers) of Your Labor
After all of that hard work, it’s time to pour yourself a drink, sit back, and take it all in. You’ve earned it.