314 Q&A Garden Time Savers

Garden Basics with Farmer Fred

Tips for beginning and experienced gardeners. New, 30-minute (or less) episodes arrive every Tuesday and Friday. Fred Hoffman has been a U.C. Certifi...

Show Notes

The Title says it all. Tips for saving time in the garden: automate, elevate, de-elevate, eliminate, and delegate.

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Show Transcript

314 TRANSCRIPT Q&A Garden Time Savers


Farmer Fred  0:05

Welcome back to the Tuesday edition of the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. Unlike the Friday edition, we're dedicating the Tuesday podcast to answering your garden questions. Stay tuned to find out how you can get your garden question into the program. So come on, let's do this.


Farmer Fred  0:25

We like to answer your garden questions here on the Garden Basics podcast. There are a lot of ways you can get your questions in. Leave an audio question, you can make a phone call 916-292-8964, 916-292-8964. You don't even need to make a phone call. Go to your computer, and yell at it. But first go to speakpipe.com/gardenbasics. And you can leave us a question that way. You can fill out the contact box at GardenBasics.net, and type in a question. Email? Sure! Send it to Fred at farmerfred.com. And of course, you can also text us questions at 916-292-8964. But we really would like to hear your voice. We? Who's we? Well, Debbie Flower is here, America's favorite retired college horticultural professor, I think, still.


Debbie Flower  1:12

yeah, sitting on your right.


Farmer Fred  1:14

Okay. On a day that promises to either rain a lot or disappoint us a lot.


Debbie Flower  1:22

Yeah, it's pretty dreary out there.


Farmer Fred  1:23

Yeah. But you know,  this weather has been so strange lately. The last couple of days have been in the 70s. That doesn't bode well for the future.  I don't know if you've taken a look at your deciduous fruit trees yet. But many of them have blossoms on them.


Debbie Flower  1:46

Oh, I didn't see blossoms on mine. I saw swollen buds, but it's not ready to pop.


Farmer Fred  1:53

Is that what they call the popcorn stage?


Debbie Flower  1:56

That's when you can see white.


Farmer Fred  1:57

Okay. And that supposedly is your last best opportunity to spray.


Debbie Flower  2:01

Right. And typically here we would spray our dormant sprays on the fruit trees, the deciduous trees, around Valentine's Day.


Farmer Fred  2:11

But that is only if that flower is not fully open, right? Because if you spray copper or oil on a deciduous fruit tree with open flowers, I don't think the flower would like that.


Debbie Flower  2:22

No, it could be very harmful to the flower. Yes.


Farmer Fred  2:24

And the other thing that could be harmful would be any frost or freeze that happened, , right? That's what I'm afraid of.  And that means fewer fruit?


Debbie Flower  2:27

Yes, it does. What happens with the harvest is what the acorn production is in the fall. That is all dependent on pollination earlier in the season, typically in spring.


Farmer Fred  2:47

I don't like climate change. It's not dependable. It's just throwing things out of whack. Alright, let's get to the question here. Terry is up in Oregon. And he sends us a text. And he says, "I was wondering if you have some tips for people who want to have a garden, but work 40+ hours a week and have no help in the garden?" Good question. Terry. Do you have any other hobbies? You might want to stop those hobbies to work in the garden.


Debbie Flower  3:13

Yeah, I'm thinking I've been there. I've had the 40 hour workweek and nobody to help me in the garden. And I still garden because  it's a passion. And it's a calming influence on me. And it feels creative. So I make the time, because it helps me. And I think the first thing I would ask Terry to do is pick the right plant for every location, he plans to garden in. If you get the plant that puts up with the sun and wind and water and soil conditions at that location, then you're much less likely to have any kind of problems that are going to use up your time and effort in the future.


Farmer Fred  3:51

Low Maintenance plants, can they be non-boring plants?


Debbie Flower  3:55

Sure. And typically, if you're looking at landscape shrubbery, look at what's planted at your local gas station in front of your library, assuming they don't have a gardening committee at the library, some do. But  public places that are maintained once a week, once every two weeks. And those will be the plants that are the easiest to care for. See what you like in that group of plants.


Farmer Fred  4:22

It might be low growing shrub roses.


Debbie Flower  4:24

Yes, it might be, Yeah. And they can be gorgeous.


Farmer Fred  4:26

That's right. And it's easy to prune those. Basically you just hack them back with, your shears.


Debbie Flower  4:32

That's not a bad thought to do that too.


Farmer Fred  4:36

Somebody did a survey. I think it was the National Gardening Association a few years ago. And they asked homeowners - "How long do you want to spend doing lawn and garden chores each week?" And the overarching answer among that group of 1000 people or so was under one hour a week.


Debbie Flower  4:56

Wow. That's nothing.


Farmer Fred  5:00

Well, I tell you, if you want to work less than an hour a week in your garden, the first thing you got to do is remove your lawn right? Because the lawn is the most time consuming part of gardening,


Debbie Flower  5:10

The lawn is the most resource consuming as well, with fertilizer and pesticides, and the mowing aspect of it.


Farmer Fred  5:18

I can't imagine working less than an hour a day.


Debbie Flower  5:22

Yeah, you have to love it, you have to get some enjoyment out of it, in order to keep pursuing it, day after day.


Farmer Fred  5:28

Yes. But it's, it's fun to do. One tip I would use would be to automate your garden as much as possible. That would mean things like an automatic watering system. To get you out of the drudgery of dragging a hose all over the yard every other day or whatever, to water the plants. If you have a container garden, well, that takes a bit more work into making sure all those pots get watered, on a different timetable than your plants in the ground. But that can also be automated. So, there is an answer to that. Drip irrigation is a good way to go. There's a lot less water waste. And there isn't a major tragedy, if there's a break in your irrigation drip irrigation system. Unlike if your lawn sprinkler system breaks, your neighbors may be enjoying Old Faithful for the whole time you're gone. So a good drip system reduces water usage, it reduces unwanted weed growth, too. It reduces plant diseases as well. And if you haven't updated your control system, do so. If you still have an old one, it's somewhere in the garage. You vaguely remember it. The new modern irrigation control systems can be run from your smartphone. Yes, they can. They can tell they can turn off the water when it's raining.


Debbie Flower  6:47

And based on temperature.


Farmer Fred  6:49

Exactly. And  if you want to get really fancy, you could have soil sensors that sense when the ground or your plants need moisture and the system would automatically turn it on.


Debbie Flower  7:01

That's big in in agriculture. Like the vineyards, I have toured many of them and they are looking at or already have that kind of a system. But if you don't have automatic watering yet, you can start small. When my father started to get somewhat demented, he would forget to either turn the water on or turn the water off. And so I got a manual dial that you attach to the hose bib and then the hose, and you just go out and twist it. And it turns on, it's kind of like the timer on the bathroom fan. this turns on the water, the water runs, the dial ticks its way down and it shuts itself off. So if you're don't have a lot of money or don't want to get all high tech right off the bat, there are simple ways to automate your watering.


Farmer Fred  7:47

One great place to put a system like that is if you have a hose bib right outside the door you use frequently. Outside the side door of my garage, I can walk out and see the plants that  I have in half barrels along the fence. And I've got that same exact system at the end of my faucet hooked up to a drip system that waters those half barrels. And I see that big yellow dial  every time I walk out the door. So I go oh, yeah. I give the dial  a twist, you have a twist of 30 minutes or 45 or whatever you want. And it turns off automatically. What's nice, too is I haven't any problems with it leaking. So that's wonderful. The one thing you do need though, is if a freeze is expected, you want to take that off there so it doesn't crack, because there probably would be water inside the battery operated timers. Do that if you don't want to go to the expense of central irrigation control system. There are good battery operated timers as well. And we should point out the one we're talking about where you twist the dial has no batteries, right? It's totally manual. But there are battery operated ones that you can hook up to outdoor faucets as wel,l and have that connected to a drip system. And it can cycle on and off according to the schedule you set.. You just have to remember to change the batteries every now and then.


Debbie Flower  9:00

Yes and I forgot that once and paid for it.


Farmer Fred  9:03

No, your plants paid for it.


Debbie Flower  9:05

My plants paid for it. Yeah, I had no harvest for the rest of the summer.


Farmer Fred  9:08



Debbie Flower  9:09

Nothing. Well, very tiny.


Farmer Fred  9:12

I thought you said there was one that survived.


Debbie Flower  9:14

There was one plant that survived, Yes. But it didn't produce.


Farmer Fred  9:19

Well, that's not unusual. So what is also nice on some of these battery operated units, teyt might have multiple outlets for watering several dripper hoses connected to various areas of your yard.


Debbie Flower  9:32

Yes, you're gonna have more than one schedule that on some of these timers you can attach a hose and a couple of places and turn a system on with one schedule of watering and then turn a different system on with a different schedule of watering. When you use different emitters on a drip system you want them to run on a different timer. All the emitters on one valve should be the same. So I have that I have my bamboo. They're in containers above ground with one kind of emitter. And I have my vegetable garden in a raised, bottomless, raised bed, in a different part of the yard. And with spray emitters on those and they have the inline drip emitters on the bamboo, so I have them on two different schedules of irrigation. And so the timers that have multiple schedules on one timer are valuable for that.


Farmer Fred  10:23

For an even more hassle free existence, use a system like that on a drip irrigation system, but don't mix pressure compensating drip emitters with the sprayers.  Sprayers are not pressure compensating. And it's not uncommon if you got a mix of drip emitters, and bubblers, or those fingerlike sprayers on the same line, those sprayers might stop working after a while because they're not getting the pressure.


Debbie Flower  10:52

They don't have any pressure. It is taken by the other emitters.


Farmer Fred  10:55

So you want to keep uniformity on any one line, as far as that goes. And I love pressure compensating emitters, because the water that comes out at the start of the system is the same amount of water that comes out at the end of the line.


Debbie Flower  11:10

Even if you turn on your shower and your washer and your dishwasher all at the same time. Right?


Farmer Fred  11:16

Yeah. You mentioned another one that could make gardening a lot easier, too. And that's having raised beds. Because when you see plants in a raised bed, you're not so adverse to going out there and sitting on the edge of the raised bed if it's got a wood frame, or a brick frame or a rock frame sitting there, and maybe pulling weeds. Whereas if everything's in the ground, you might say, Oh, I've got my good tuxedo on. I can't get down on my knees and do that.


Debbie Flower  11:44

Maybe that's rule number three. Don't wear your tuxedo to work. Because then when you come home, you won't pull a weed that's in your path.


Farmer Fred  11:52

Yeah, dress for the occasion. So make it easy on yourself with raised beds, it reduces stooping and kneeling. And especially as you get along in years, you look more forward to going out to the garden where you're having an easier time getting back up, right?


Debbie Flower  12:09

Yes. And raised beds allow you to have your own soil mix, whatever that is. It can be field soil, or it can be container soil. It depends on the type of raised bed you have, which would be better. Or if you can use either.


Farmer Fred  12:23

The key for not wrenching your back in a raised bed is don't make it any wider than you can reach halfway through the bed.  And for most people, that's about a four foot wide bed, right? You don't want to be stepping in the bed for one thing and compacting the soil. And you want to be able to reach the middle while you're sitting on the edge.


Debbie Flower  12:39

No feet in bed.


Farmer Fred  12:41

No feet in bed.  The height of the raised bed, it's really up to you, I'd say sitting height would be 18 inches or so, I know people that like taller ones. And that's fine because it keeps the dogs out.  That's the other thing, too, about raised beds versus having a regular garden. If you're having trouble with Rover running through your garden, he's probably easier to train, to stay out of a raised bed that he would be trying to stay out of a ground level garden.


Debbie Flower  13:11



Farmer Fred  13:12

Good luck with that, by the way. As far as mitigating pest problems, if you're using raised beds, definitely put some hardware cloth on the bottom of it, which is usually quarter inch mesh, that you can  install that runs along the bottom of the raised bed and comes up the sides, all the sides, to keep the gophers out. Who wants to deal with gophers? Nobody. So let them go visit your neighbors instead. So use that hardware cloth. It's not hard to recommend container gardening too, if you want to save time, because that makes things a heck of a lot easier as far as what to reach. It just needs its own watering system. Right? And it may need more shade and more sun protection.


Debbie Flower  13:54

And that container better have some drain holes in it.


Farmer Fred  13:56

Oh, please. Yes, good size holes, too. I'm always amazed at the number of instances where I've come across people who have container gardens, and there's no drainage in the pots. Where does the water go? Where do you think the water is going to? It's not going anywhere. It's going to sit at the bottom, and rot the roots. Right?


Debbie Flower  14:14

And then it smells like dead sea.


Farmer Fred  14:16

Does the Dead Sea smell like that?


Debbie Flower  14:18

Yeah, no, I don't know. I haven't been there. It smells like dead fish or low tide.


Farmer Fred  14:23

Okay. I imagine the Dead Sea smells like salt.


Debbie Flower  14:26

I would imagine it does as well.


Farmer Fred  14:28

Somebody will tell us I'm sure. All right. So yeah, elevating can save you a lot of time in the garden too. And don't forget about de-elevating. And by that we're talking about doing what's now called backyard orchard culture, where if you have fruit trees, don't let them get any taller than you can reach, which might be seven feet, maybe six feet if you are short, eight feet if you're Kareem Abdul Jabbar. But basically, you're always standing on the ground. You're not risking your life and limb on a ladder. When you have fruit on a six foot, seven foot, eight foot tree, the fruit is easier to get at. It's easier to net if you're trying to keep critters out. And you're gonna get enough fruit for you and your family.


Debbie Flower  15:10

Yes, that's been proven. Yeah.


Farmer Fred  15:13

So just as we like to say De-elevate, you can do it over time. If you have fruit trees that are way tall right now, it might take three years or so right? Doing a judicious winter pruning, using what sort of cuts?


Debbie Flower  15:26

Thinning cuts, where you take the whole branch out.


Farmer Fred  15:28

Because that actually slows down the growth, the regrowth. If you do it right.


Debbie Flower  15:33

And it spaces it apart. When you do a heading cut, which is just a random cut across a branch anywhere, the regrowth will come from below that cut and you'll have multiple buds breaking at once. So instead of having one stem produced where you used to have one stem, you'll now have three or four or five stems. And so there's crowding, which leads to trapped water and disease and it traps insects so they can thrive because the beneficials can't get to them. It creates a mess.


Farmer Fred  16:02

And broken branches.


Debbie Flower  16:03

Yes, they're very poorly attached,


Farmer Fred  16:06

Right. So that thinning cut, as opposed to a heading cut, which is just going willy nilly through the tree and making cuts with no goal in mind, by removing where a branch meets a larger branch and removing it there, you're helping to spur growth lower than that, too.


Debbie Flower  16:21

Yes, well, and I've been working on my apricot tree, I've lived in this house 12 years at least. And it came with the house. And it had branches over branches. The top branches were producing quite well because they're out in the sun, but the branches below would produce just a little bit. But there was a lot of fungal problems, a lot of brown rot problems and not a lot of crop down where I could reach it. So I have, over time, been cutting out those over the top branches and getting light to what's below. So it produces more branches below which are more in the range that I can reach them from the ground.


Farmer Fred  16:58

I guess the ideal shape for a fruit tree is sort of martini glass shape, whatever you want to call it?


Debbie Flower  17:05

or umbrella, umbrella shape.


Farmer Fred  17:07

but you do want to thin out the interior to allow them air and sun to get in  to the inside. Because why should all the fruit be at the top of the tree? It's for the birds, it's too far up there. So okay, we've done automate, elevate, de-elevate, why not eliminate? What about these problem plants that you hope will get better one day? And they never do? Why keep fretting over some sort of a habitually underperforming plant? There's no reason, right?


Debbie Flower  17:36

Yeah, life's too short for problem plants. You came up with that.


Farmer Fred  17:41

Life is too short. Life is too short to put up with a problem plant. And as you said, right plant, right place.. So you get one that's better suited to your climate, better suited to the amount of sun it's going to get in your yard.


Debbie Flower  17:56

It may be a problem plant because it's not the right plant for that location.


Farmer Fred  18:01

One bit of good exercise, but it can certainly save you a lot of time in the garden in the long run, is to add mulch. And adding three or four inches of mulch can certainly keep weeds under control.


Debbie Flower  18:10

Yes, it can improve the quality of the soil, prevents compaction when you walk on it, it's increases the biology in the soil, helps a whole lot of things.


Farmer Fred  18:20

And like we said way back when, if you really want to save time, get rid of the lawn, put in plants that are going to do a lot more to get you more food. Well how is that? Well flowering plants attract beneficial insects that can battle the bad insects. Flowering plants also attract pollinating insects, which means you're gonna get more fruits and vegetables as they hover around if you have plants in your garden. You ever see any bees working your lawn?


Debbie Flower  18:46

No, not unless there's some clover in there, and clover has flowers, yes.


Farmer Fred  18:55

All right, I hear you yelling at me from your car. You need that lawn for your dog, your cat, your kids. They can survive on a little smaller area of lawn.


Debbie Flower  19:07

Right. Right size the lawn, as the tech companies now say. Put in just what you need. Maintain that portion but not extra. Right?


Farmer Fred  19:17

Just decide, how much lawn do you really need? And I guess finally would be to delegate. Terry mentioned that he doesn't have any help in the garden. Somewhere in your neighborhood, there's probably some kid that wants to make some money, right? Teenagers are really good at moving stuff, you know, rocks and mulch and even pulling weeds.


Debbie Flower  19:38

And sometimes mowing lawns.


Farmer Fred  19:41

That's how I got by from age eight to 15. I was mowing lawns in the neighborhood. But, you know, ask around. Also, there's usually somebody in your neighborhood, even in suburban purgatory, that has a bigger outdoor implement. It might be a chipper shredder, it might be a small tractor. It might be a backhoe. Those are the people to make friends with. And get them over there to help you out when you need it. So ask your neighbors, too, for recommendations for professional landscapers and arborists. Check their credentials online, seek them out, and parceling out yard work to others. It is tough for gardeners, but come on, grit your teeth, and open your wallet. It'll save your back, and it will save you some time. Right? Money heals all wounds. All right, anything else to save Terry some time here?


Debbie Flower  20:34

Boy, nothing that I can think of off the top of my head.


Farmer Fred  20:38

Then going back to your right plant, right place thing, too, is don't experiment more than your tried and true garden. You can have an experimental garden where you're growing things that you've never seen growing in your neighborhood. But keep that at a lesser percentage than things you see growing in your neighborhood.


Debbie Flower  20:54

And that's probably a place where I make my biggest mistake because I always want to try different things and see what happens.


Farmer Fred  21:00

if you'd quit going to nurseries that wouldn't happen.


Debbie Flower  21:02

That or just reading seed catalogs.


Farmer Fred  21:05

Yes. It's amazing how that works. So Terry, I hope that information helps, and we can save you some time in the garden. Thanks, Debbie.


Debbie Flower  21:14

You're welcome Fred.


Farmer Fred  21:24

Want to leave us a garden question, you'll find a link at Gardenbasics.net. Also, when you click on any episode at Gardenbasics.net, you're going to find a link to Speakpipe. You'll find it in the show notes. And when you bring up SpeakPipe on your computer or smartphone, you can leave us an audio question without making a phone call. Or you can go to Speakpipe directly that would be speakpipe.com/gardenbasics . You want to call or text us? We have that number posted at Garden Basics with Farmer Fred. It's 916-292-8964, 916-292-8964 . Email? Sure! We like email, send it along with your pictures to Fred at farmerfred.com. Or again go to gardenbasics.net and get that link. And if you send us a question, be sure to tell us where you're gardening, because all gardening is local. Find it all at Gardenbasics.net .


Farmer Fred  22:23

Garden Basics with Farmer Fred comes out every Tuesday and Friday and it's brought to you by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Garden Basics. It's available wherever podcasts are handed out. For more information about the podcast, visit our website, gardenbasics.net. And  that's where you can find out about the free Garden Basics newsletter, "Beyond the Basics". And thank you so much for listening.



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