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Rescue my garden: Watering secrets Add to ...

My neighbours call me the Butcher of East York.

When we moved into our house in Toronto's east end, my wife and I inherited a lush, balanced, dramatic front garden. We even got a letter that summer congratulating us on being nominated for some community beautification award - clearly earned through our garden's sheer force of will and not the clumsy care of two reformed apartment dwellers.

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Five years and two kids later, we're losing the leafy battle. As the designated landscaper, my trial-and-error approach has led to a hot horticultural mess. Our euphorbia polychroma is overzealous. Our Japanese maple is prematurely balding. Our scorched patches have scorched patches. The overall impression is worse than neglect: It's a daily reminder that I don't know what I'm doing.

Can my garden be salvaged?

I've enlisted Marjorie Harris, gardening guru and Globe Style columnist, for some remedial lessons.

OK, when should I use a sprinkler, when do I need a multi-setting nozzle, and when can I just use the hose?

Use a sprinkler when you want to do a generalized watering, but make sure you aren't leaving "rain shadows" - places where the water doesn't hit. Put the hose on a ladder so it has a further reach, a much softer landing of the water.

Multi-nozzle setting are lots of fun and do have their place - especially when you have a special area you want to water.

The most sensible way to water large plants such as trees and shrubs is to let the hose dribble in water around the base of the plant. For big trees, keep moving it so that the water is going to go all the way around and below the root system.

How do I know if the water pressure is too high?

Your soil will turn to dust pretty quickly. You don't need the jet nozzle except to get rid of pests such as aphids.

Is there a rule of thumb for how long I should I water my flowers and plants? For example, "Feed a flower, starve a shrub"? (I just made that up.)

There is a rule of thumb and this sure isn't it. Water a couple of times a week for at least 45 minutes to an hour when it hasn't rained.

How can I tell if my plants have had enough water?

Stick your trowel in the soil and have a look. If it's wet eight inches down, you've watered enough.

How often should I water each week, and what's the best time of day?

Water early in the evening or early in the morning. Water twice a week when it isn't raining. I cannot repeat that often enough: You see watering systems automatically watering in the rain - they are set so badly.

To replenish nutrients what kind of soil or compost should I lay over the garden and how often should I do that?

Use any kind of well-rotted compost. That means it is dark, smells like the earth. Spread it around to about an inch thick to feed. You can do this in spring before you mulch.

And then you probably won't need to do it again until you mulch in autumn. The saying here is: "Feed the soil, not the plant." Plants are designed to absorb what they need from the soil so you really don't need a lot of fertilizers, etc. You need healthy soil.



Gardening expert Marjorie Harris writes for Globe Style. Her web site is www.marjorieharris.com.

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