Here’s how Mark Cullen, Carson Arthur, Marjorie Harris and Jon Peter get efficient results with less effort

Originally featured on CBC Life by Portia Corman.


For some gardening is a creative, mediative and nurturing hobby; working the soil and patiently waiting for shoots to emerge is a reward in itself. Others garden solely to make the yard look presentable, motivated by the idea of lounging in a hammock, peacefully enjoying a cold one in beautifully crafted surroundings.

No matter what type of gardener you are, tips for making the job easier are always welcome so we turned to Canada’s most trustworthy gardening experts to share their best hacks. Here’s how they get efficient results with less effort.

Mo’ mulch, mo’ beer

Filling the watering can for the first time and pulling weeds in the spring is exhilarating for gardeners. The singing birds, fresh air, and dirty hands can be a spiritual experience. However, that organic euphoria is a challenge to sustain and even gardening royalty can be discouraged by it.

Famous Canadian green thumb, Mark Cullen admits, “I enjoy pulling some weeds in the early spring when there aren’t that many of them and I’m not distracted by other activities that I enjoy much more.”

So how does Cullen escape the drudgery? The answer is mulch.

“I spread 4 to 6 centimetres of finely ground up cedar bark mulch over my entire garden each spring. This reduces the need for watering by up to 70% and weeding by up to 90% the first year. A generous layer of bark mulch will last a couple of years, maybe three, before it needs to be freshened up. The miracle of mulch is that I get to play in the garden doing more of the stuff that I really enjoy; planting and nurturing and at the end of the day, sitting with a beer and observing.”

Block messages from neighbourhood pests

If your neighbour’s cat uses your flower bed as his urine-soaked message board, Carson Arthur has a natural solution to try before you shell out at the gardening centre.

“Simply do a border of cinnamon sticks around the outside of your flower beds by pushing them 2/3 of the way into the ground every 8 inches. Cats hate cinnamon and every time you water the garden or it rains, the spicy scent drives them away.”

If dogs are leaving similar sensory messages on your mailbox post or the planter by your front door, Carson suggests spraying diluted orange juice wherever they like to lift their legs. “You’ll have to reapply a few times, after heavy rains, but the dogs will completely move on.”

The need for feed

You know that house on your street with the garden that spills with big, lush blooms all summer long? Maybe they didn’t spend a fortune on fertilizer… maybe they’re turning their garbage into compost tea.

That’s right, self proclaimed obsessive gardener Marjorie Harris says, “Nurture the soil and you nurture your plants and you’ll have no need to buy expensive chemical fertilizers. When you have good compost, don’t just work it into the soil, try feeding the foliage as well with a compost tea spray.” Just as it sounds, that’s compost steeped in water and you can find one “how-to” here. The spray is thought to repel diseases on foliage and may improve the flavour of vegetables as well.

Stay sharp; don’t break your back

If you find gardening especially time consuming and even back breaking, good news: your tools are out of shape, not you.

Jon Peter, curator and manager of Plant Records at Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, Ontario says keeping garden tools sharp and clean is a free way to improve your gardening experience.

“It doesn’t cost you anything, only a little bit of sharpening/cleaning time. Use a sharpening stone to sharpen the blades of your secateurs, loppers, saws, hedge trimmers etc. and your blades will cut through branches like butter. Use a file, a grinder or other sharpening gadgets to keep your spades, shovels and weeding tools sharp for easier digging.”

Though it’s tempting after a long, hot day in the garden, Jon says it’s a mistake to toss your soil-caked tools back in the garage.

“Cleaning tools and keeping them clean is important. Don’t use pruning tools below soil level; clear soil away from cuts you need to make at the base of plants or you will need to sharpen your blades more often. Use isopropyl alcohol wipes or spray to disinfect your pruning tools between each cut you make so you don’t transfer diseases throughout your plants.”

The good news is, if you keep your tools sharp and clean you’ll replace them less often. Just be sure to apply a light coat of oil to metal tools before you put the garden to sleep in the fall to prevent winter rusting.