How to perk up a tired garden

Turning a sad, unhealthy garden isn't as much work as it seems!

Left uncared for, gardens can quickly grow into sad-looking forests. Plants will grow leggy and weak, dust will clog pores, mineral deficiencies will crop up, pests will have a party, and weeds will thrive. So, if you want to help your granny get her forgotten garden in order, or if your own garden has started to look unhealthy and tired, here’s how you can spruce it up.

Note that this blog post is about gardens that are not healthy, as opposed to overgrown gardens. If you’re dealing with the latter (a healthy, but untidy garden), check out my blog post here. If you’re facing both problems, start with this article and then move to the next. If you’re dealing with a potted plant, look out for my next article on the subject.

Trimming

The easiest way to spruce up a tired-looking plant is by trimming it. Trimming encourages fresh new growth, which makes your plant prettier and healthier. It also clears up air space, thus improving airflow and light penetration around your plants. If the plant’s looking really beaten up, you can trim it aggressively – perhaps even cut it back to a few inches above soil level. But if all it needs is a boost, trim it by a few inches, and you should see lush new growth within a few months. Follow it up with another quick snip in a few months, once 2-3 sets of new leaves have appeared.

Sunlight

Make sure your plants are getting plenty of sunlight. This sort of ties in with trimming, because trimming will clear up the space and help your plants get more sun. Sunlight is important because in its absence, very few plants (mostly indoor varieties) are happy. In fact, in some cases, just ensuring that a plant gets enough sunlight might bring about a drastic change (for the better) in its health. So, research your plants’ light requirements, and try to ensure they’re getting what they need.

Fertilizer

Fertilize the soil to cure mineral deficiencies in your plants. That’ll help your plants grow and develop more flowers, and also fix unhealthy growth and discolorations caused by deficiency. If you want quick results, use chemical fertilizer, because organic fertilizer is normally slow to act. Or, if you want to stay organic but doubt your plants can wait very long, you can try using liquid fertilizer such as urine or comfrey tea. For more ideas, check out this article.

Remove competition

Remove competition by removing weeds and thinning your plants out. This will ensure that the plants that remain can grow fully, expand their roots, and absorb nutrients from the soil. Weeding can be a tough job because it required a lot of bending and persistent work, so instead of doing it the conventional way, you can try laying down cardboard on top of the weeds. This will suffocate them and prevent them from getting sunlight, and they’ll soon perish.

Remove pests and diseases

Most pests, such as aphids, caterpillars, slugs and bugs are easy to remove. They can be plucked off, or shot off with a jet of water. However, for some pests like ants, that method doesn’t work. In that case, you can use diatomaceous earth or neem oil – both of which are highly effective and organic. Most diseases can be solved by ensuring the soil has the right level of moisture, there is sufficient airflow and sunlight, and that the soil isn’t nutrient deficient.

Replace old plants

Despite doing the above, you may find that some plants are still not recovering. That may mean that it’s simply time for them to go. Plants are living beings and they get tired and old, and after a certain age they’ll just not have the life and vigour they once did. In that case, they’ll need to be replaced. Get a new plant from the nursery, take cuttings from the old plant, or sow seeds.

Shampoo the plants

Dust may cover plants and clog their pores, making it hard for them to breathe. This’ll have a detrimental effect on their growth. To clean them up, you can either wipe the leaves down with a wet rag, or hose the plants down, depending on the amount of work it entails in your case. Make sure to clean the plant thoroughly – over and under the leaves, and on the stem. Rain does a fine job of that outdoors, but if they’re indoor plants, they’ll need some TLC.

Remove lower leaves

The set of leaves at the very bottom can and should be removed. These are generally the oldest leaves, and are often yellowing. In that case, the plant wastes energy trying to keep them alive. Another reason why they should be removed is to reduce risk of splashback. When water falls on the soil, it may make a muddy mess and cause splashes on the underside of the lower leaves – which, in turn, may breed pests and disease. Removing leaves from the bottommost 6-12 inches reduces the risk of that by a large extent.

Deadheading

Most flowering plants need to be deadheaded, to keep them looking pretty, and to prevent the formation of seeds. When seeds begin to form, the plant stops flowering, and focuses all its energy into making seeds. Furthermore, once the seeds ripen, they’ll fall to the ground and sprout, crowding root space. So, remove the flowers when they start to wilt, or perhaps pick them early on and use them in pretty flower arrangements.

Regular watering as per their needs

Regular watering goes a long way in making a plant look healthy and happy. Understand your plant’s watering needs – as both overwatering and underwatering can weaken a plant – and set up a routine that helps you fulfill them. Mulches and drip systems can help keep the more thirsty plants happy, and improving drainage around dry soil-loving plants can keep them from drowning.

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