The 10 Commandments of Smart Gardening

Phil has a game he plays with the kids after they’ve messed up or gotten in trouble.  It’s called “Smart or Not Smart“.  As they tell him their side of the story, he’ll stop them at decision points and ask, “Now was that smart or not smart?” What the kids haven’t recognized (yet) is that whenever they play this game with their dad, the answer is always “not smart“.

Over the years, I’ve had plenty of “not smart” moments as a gardener. One example was planting Nannyberry behind the garage – what a mess! They finally got chopped down this summer, though I’ll be dealing with baby shoots for years.


Here’s a smarter decision I made after a friend told me how much she loved pairing peach and yellow in the garden. I love my peach day lily next to the black-eyed susan.

Peach Day Lily

I culled through my own experiences in the garden this summer to outline some lessons in smart gardening, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced digger – I call them The 10 Commandments of Smart Gardening. I’m sure you’ll recognize yourself in some of these guidelines, but I hope they also provide some inspiration for you, too – no matter your experience level.

The 10 Commandments of Smart Gardening

1. Thou Shalt Garden Well in the Beds You Currently Have

I am very familiar with the desire for expanded garden spaces. I've got a garden that wraps around my house like a moat. But I'm learning to work with the space I've already carved out for my gardens. There are always opportunities to maximize existing garden space. Staying put with your current garden space forces editing and care. It also brings creativity.
2. Thou Shalt Address the Plants that are Misplaced (finally!)

Remember the design ideas that were originally intended for a particular part of your garden? If the design has gotten lost due to poor plant placement or overgrowth, it's time to revitalize that original plan. Revisit your garden designs; either do a little garden redesign or cull out the plants that are not cooperating with your original vision for your garden.
3. Thou Shalt Practice Restraint

It's so tempting to go completely gangbusters shopping at nurseries. But, buying more plants doesn't equate to a better garden (if only it were that easy!) Be thoughtful - and downright picky - with your plant selections.
4. Thou Shalt Share your Harvest

When I started harvesting from my first garden, I was overwhelmed by the bounty. These days, I keep a bushel basket in my trunk for delivering extra produce. I love supplying my friends, people I do business with, and the food shelf with produce from my garden.
5. Thou Shalt Be Selective with the Plants you Over-Winter Indoors

The best gardeners, as Shane Smith of shared with me, are ruthless. Just because something can over-winter indoors, doesn't mean you have to bring it in the house. Don't bother bringing in huge plants unless you have room for them. Twenty-foot-long pathos, ivys, or hoyas, can stand to get a hair cut and start fresh plants with the cuttings. Honestly. Give yourself permission to toss the diseased or pest-ridden, the sun burned and the just plain ugly.
6. Thou Shalt Use That Garden Bench or Front Porch

Ask yourself, What is my favorite spot in the garden and do I spend time there every week? Enough said.
7. Thou Shalt Celebrate Improvements

When the heat, weeds, or mosquitos are driving you out of you garden, take a look at all the wonderful things you've created with your garden. I love revisiting my favorite gardens. The best improvements happen organically as a natural flow of the old into the new.
8. Thou Shalt Pace Yourself

Garden burnout is a very real problem for gardeners. It's no good to overwork yourself in the garden. Set some limitations for gardening and everyone wins. Invest in short bursts of productive garden sessions and you'll find renewed energy for gardening.
9. Thou Shalt Prune

Get in the habit of pruning. One of my gardening friends has the tidiest gardens I've ever seen. She has one of those ridiculously tiny pruners - something I would have never bought before watching her walk through her garden. Each morning, she takes the smallest snippets off her plants. I first thought those little snips weren't a big deal until I realized something... she does it every. single. day. It adds up.
10. Thou Shalt Plan For Next Year

It's been an interesting summer - it was a late starter for many of us and I'm telling you something you already know: the to-do list ain't over yet. One of the chores you won't regret is starting a plan for next year and that means writing things down. It's no fun having to rack your brains about your garden in November or January. So be nice to your future self - the one walking into Starbucks with garden books in tow and wearing those cute boots - by taking plenty of notes and photos about your gardens, plants and empty spaces.

Still growing...

Jennifer Ebeling
Jennifer Ebeling is a proud Minnesotan and U of MN alumni. Gooooooo Gophers! Each week, Jennifer produces and hosts Still Growing - a gardening podcast dedicated to helping you and your garden grow. The show is an in-depth interview format. Guests featured on the show share a passion for gardening and include authors, bloggers, professional gardeners, etc. Listeners and guests of the show can join the Still Growing community on Facebook. It's a place to ask questions, share garden stories, interact with great guests featured on the show, and continue to grow and learn. Jennifer and her husband Philip have four children, a big golden lab named Sonny, and live in lovely Maple Grove, Minnesota. P.S. When she's not teaching her four kids a new card game - or teaching them how to drive a car - Jennifer loves inspiring individuals and groups to maximize and personalize their home & garden.
Jennifer Ebeling
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