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Five ways to save work, time in your fall garden

Let nature give you a hand; recycle fallen leaves -- and dig bigger holes

This lemon balm plant is happy and healthy even in hot weather with bark mulch to help preserve soil moisture and keep weeds under control.

This lemon balm plant is happy and healthy even in hot weather with bark mulch to help preserve soil moisture and keep weeds under control. Kathy Morrison

“There’s got to be an easier way.” How many times have you had that thought while pulling weeds, mowing grass or digging holes?

On this Labor Day, consider how you spend your time in your garden. If it’s all work, there’s no “down time” to relax and really enjoy the results of your efforts. You’re too tired to smell the roses.

With that in mind on this holiday, here are five ways to save labor (and time) in the landscape this fall:

1. Mulch, mulch, mulch!

This simple step saves moisture, cuts down on weeds and helps plants cope with fluctuating weather. Use organic material (straw, leaves, bark, etc.) and that mulch adds nutrients to the soil, too. Avoid rocks or gravel as mulch; they retain too much heat in Sacramento and can “cook” plant roots.

2. Make use of fallen leaves.

This is Mother Nature’s idea of recycling. All those dry leaves that will soon be coming down make excellent mulch and will improve the soil. Mulch also helps suppress weeds, so you’ll spend less time weeding.

Instead of raking up the avalanche of fallen leaves, use the lawn mower to chop them instead. Then, spread this mulch around trees and shrubs. Leave a few inches of space around trunks to avoid crown rot.

Avoid any leaves that show the effects of disease such as peach leaf curl; put those leaves in the trash. If you dispose of that infected foliage, you’ll save time fighting those fungal diseases next year.

3. Use bigger pots.

The larger the container, the less frequently it needs watering. It also makes a greater visual impact and allows plants more room to grow.

4. Choose lower-maintenance, slow-growing plants.

Tired of pruning hedges? Constantly edging borders? Mowing the lawn? Transition your landscape to plants that need less fuss and snipping. It’s a matter of putting the right plant in the right place; it will grow healthier and need less care, too.

5. Dig once, plant a lot.

Fall is planting season for daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and other spring-blooming bulbs. Instead of planting each bulb separately, dig a wide hole to the depth needed and plant several bulbs together. This same idea works for annuals and such cool-season vegetables as lettuce, chard and kale. Dig a single trench, then plant a whole row.

This method also allows for working compost, bone meal or other amendments into the soil all at once instead of little hole by hole.

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Dig In: Garden Checklist for week of April 7

The warm wave coming this week will shift weeds into overdrive. Get to work!

* Weed, weed, weed! Whack them before they flower.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden is really hungry. Feed shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash. Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias. Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom. April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce and cabbage seedlings.

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