(BPT) - Summer can be tough on gardens. In what should be their glory days, many gardens suffer from neglect. Long weekends and summer vacations leave yards untended, while summer heat is an excuse for putting off chores. But it doesn't have to be that way. It's possible to have both a glorious well-maintained garden and time for fun in the sun by taking some smart gardening steps now.
Here's a quick list of pro-active steps from the experts at preen.com to transform a yard or garden from needy-and-greedy to lean-and-green by reducing watering and weeding needs all season.
* Choose better places for better plants - Many plant experts insist that 90 percent of garden problems would disappear if gardeners put the right plants in the right places. But, sometimes it's the planting place itself that needs adjustment. For example, a hot, dry, exposed setting is brutal on most plant selections. Why not completely rethink a spot like this? To alter the heat-and-light dynamic, introduce a small shade tree to serve as the anchor of a new easy-care landscape bed. Add a supporting cast of drought-tolerant shrubs and perennials. With better places for better plants, long-term maintenance can be a breeze.
* Whack weeding - Weeding consumes more time in the garden than anything else, except watering, according to a National Gardening Association survey. Covering garden beds with a 3-inch layer of mulch will greatly reduce the need to weed and water, while making everything look tidy too. Mulch retains soil moisture and denies weed seeds the light they need to sprout. Top off mulch with a sprinkling of a pre-emergent such as Preen to stop weed seeds from growing in mulch and garden soil for up to three or four months. For a one-step solution that creates a six-month weed-fighting barrier, try Preen Mulch Plus, a natural shredded-wood mulch with added pre-emergent weed preventers already mixed in.
* Beef up the border patrol - Sharply-defined edges around garden beds add visual appeal to any property. They also make maintenance easier by creating a firm demarcation between beds and lawns to keep out invasive perennial weeds, including nasty creepers that can't be prevented by other means. Dig a shallow 8-inch wide trench surrounding garden beds, then cover it with 3 inches of mulch; or install a barrier-style perimeter edging of metal, stone, rubber or wood.
* Banish fainting spells - When it comes to water-retentive container plantings, think fewer and bigger. Don't dot decks, doorways and patios with fussy little pots. Small containers look insignificant and dry out fast, subjecting parched plants to repeated bouts of stress from fainting spells. Larger containers allow for more dramatic plant groupings and plenty of healthy root room, plus retain important soil moisture.
* Try tick-tock watering - Gardens need less water than many think, thriving on as little as 1 inch of water per week whether it's delivered by rain, drip irrigation, sprinklers or a hand-held hose. To save time watering all season and prepare a garden to get through extended dry spells, add programmable water timers to water spigots and hose systems. Even inexpensive timers can deliver water to suit particular plant and climate needs. Early morning watering is best. Midday sun can burn wet leaves. Evening watering can lead to plant ailments and mildew.
Don't spend the summer constantly weeding, watering and struggling to keep up with garden chores. Put your garden on a path to self-sufficiency. Then focus on fun in the sun, whether you're on vacation or in your own backyard.