One of the most influential phrases I’ve read over the years spoke to how a neat and tidy garden isn’t the sign of a good gardener. It’s the sign of a neat and tidy gardener.

This time of year, some gardens end up full of weed seeds or eaten down by groundhogs. It can be disheartening to look out across a garden you’ve devoted so much time and labor to and only see weeds. Compost piles sprouted while your back was turned. The winter squash even made it into your neighbor’s yard.

That’s okay, though.

The end of the summer growing season is the perfect time to take a step back and analyze your progress. For future planning, here are some thoughts on working smarter, not harder in the garden.

  • Improve your watering methods. Hand watering with a hose can be time-consuming and wasteful of water. Irrigating your beds with drip irrigation will make sure you’re not out in the garden for too long. Instead, you can turn on the irrigation, get ready for your day, and turn it off. Automatic timers can be a life saver if they fit into your garden budget.
  • Laying down mulch when you plant can suppress weeds, minimize erosion, increase soil moisture, and increase yield. Check out this article for a basic overview of common mulching options.
  • Careful consideration of what plants to grow can save a ton of time in the garden. Perennial asparagus, strawberries, rhubarb, herbs, and fruit trees don’t require much labor. On the other hand, okra requires almost daily harvesting. If perennials are too much of an investment or be extra busy over the growing season, try planting more winter squash. The vigorous vines compete well with weeds over a long season with minimal labor, high yield, and a long storage life.
  • Staying up to date on records gives gardeners a great reference sheet for future crop rotations. Are you really going to remember what variety was planted where and how it did 5 years ago? Whether you garden plan through free online software or homegrown excel spreadsheets, print off a few blank copies. You can easily fill them out every couple months.

Taking a step back at the end of the main growing season. Reviewing the year can streamline production and keep you from feeling overwhelmed. Good gardeners don’t always manage neat and tidy gardens.