(Editor's Note: This article was first published on March 9, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previousy published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
The absolute first thing you should do in the spring is walk around your gardens with pad and pencil in hand. Take notes. Make lists. Sketch things out. You might even want to have several pages going at once; for example, one page may contain an ongoing list of all the shrubs in your yard needing trimmed. Another page may contain a list of underachieving perennials needing moved or removed. If you've got indoor plants with needs, add them to the list too. You get the idea.
Then, after eyeballing your gardens and making your lists, sit down and add routine seasonal outdoor tasks: fertilizing, applying nematodes, weed-n-feed, whatever. Next to these tasks, assign a deadline date. For instance, here in Texas the window for applying corn gluten meal to the lawn is pretty small - between mid-February and early March. So on my list, I would assign this task a deadline date of March 5.
(Also, on a side note, keep in mind any pending mail order plants you've got coming. If you've requested a specific date for delivery, add that date to your list, with a projected planting date. It's best to get those babies in the ground soon after they arrive at your house.)
Next, analyze your list and decide which tasks are most critical. Highlighter pens or colored pencils are good for this part. If your tulip bulbs are suddenly underwater, or your brugs are wilted and covered with white flies, or a heavy vine is pulling your fence down, it's time to take action. Give these items a red star to indicate "Must Do Now!" Continue to work through the list and rank everything, keeping in mind those previously mentioned seasonal activities with deadlines. If you find one of the deadlines is approaching, give it a red star. Maybe use an orange star for less critical but still fairly urgent tasks, yellow for medium importance, etc.
Time for a clean page. Write down all of the red star items. If you've got more than 10, it may be a good idea to enlist some professional help, especially if some of these are big projects. If not, try to take things one item at a time, finishing each one as you go and crossing it off the list.
If you find yourself pressed for time, don't panic. Rank only your red star list and knock out the absolutely most critical tasks. Eventually you'll get there.
Ok, let's assume you've completed your red star list and have about 100 less critical chores needing done. Where to start? I've found there are two methods which help me to stay focused: gardening by area, and gardening by action.
Gardening by area is pretty self-explanatory. You simply work on one quadrant of your yard at a time, completing everything that needs done in that space. For instance, last weekend I tackled my Louisiana iris bed. I cleaned out the excess leaves, fluffed the mulch, pulled weeds and grass, divided and replanted a few crowded irises, and watered. All done. Then I moved on to my vegetable garden by the driveway, again completing all the tasks that needed done there.
Gardening by action requires a little more self-discipline. I try to employ this method when doing household chores, but it doesn't always work, as I still find myself going off in several different directions. Obviously, that's what we're trying to avoid here.
So, making lists will again help if you choose to take this route. For example, my gardening by action list for this coming weekend includes:
- Trim all ornamental grasses
- Divide and move all heucheras
- Fertilize all orchids
- Start pepper and eggplant seeds
Your actions are still sort of general, but grouped by task. The advantage of this method is that when you set out to complete a task, you probably only need a limited number of tools. Conversely, when you garden by area, you may find yourself hauling the entire tool shed out with you.
One last piece of advice: slow down. I used to rush around in the garden, trying to get everything done at once. A couple of minor injuries convinced me that gardening isn't supposed to be a stressful sprint. It should be fun and relaxing. And your sense of accomplishment is so much greater when, through proper planning and organization, you actually have time to sit back and enjoy the beauty you've created.