1. Start with a plan.
A well-thought-out plan saves you time spent trying to decide where you want each plant to go during the few hours you have to work outside. Be even more productive, advises the manager of the OG Test Garden in Pennsylvania, by deciding now what to put in later to replace short-lived plants like lettuce and spinach.
2. Make quick beds.
Create a new perennial garden simply by slicing under turf with a spade, flipping it upside down, and then covering the area with 3 to 4 inches of wood chips. Wait a few weeks and then cut into it and plant your perennials.
3. Stash your tools.
Minimize trips to the shed by keeping tools close. "I have gloves, pruners, a trowel, and other tools with me at all times," says Debbie Leung, OG Test Gardener in Olympia, Washington. "I wear pants with lots of pockets, or a carpenter's tool belt. A 5-gallon bucket also works." Lisa Gabory, landscape coordinator at the Rodale family farm, has a more unusual approach: She uses an old metal mailbox to hold hand tools. "Placing the mailbox at the entrance to my garden not only makes finding tools easier; it looks cool!" she says.
When low-growing weeds like chickweed or lamium grow into a mat, don't bother trying to get rid of them one at a time. Instead, use the "shovel method" Debbie recommends. "With a sharp spade, slice beneath weeds, and then turn them over to completely bury the leaves," she explains. Bonus: "As the leaves rot, the weeds nourish the soil like a green manure."
5. Pile on mulch.
Use a bow or flat-head rake to spread mulch efficiently, Lisa suggests. "With the rake's tined edge, you pull and spread the mulch, and with the flat side of the rake, you even out the mulch on the bed," she explains, adding, "Use a light push-pull action."
6. Water wisely.
Soaker hoses save you the time of standing with a hose or refilling a watering can, Debbie reminds us. "With pressure on low, the water can be left on for several hours while a section of the garden is slowly irrigated, freeing you to work on something else. Just keep in mind that tender seedlings still need to be hand-watered."
7. Wind up hoses.
Don't waste time dragging and storing unwieldy hoses—for neat, easy storage, Lisa depends on both stationary and portable hose reels to put hoses away faster.
No need to tote wheel-barrows full of compost to your garden. "I make compost right in the walkways of my beds," Lisa says. "I layer newspaper with straw on top to prevent muddy shoes, and toward the end of the growing season, the straw and newspaper become a dark, crumbly compost. I add it right to the beds on each side of the walkway."
9. Wash the harvest.
Collect your produce in an old laundry basket. The basket acts as a strainer, allowing you to quickly rinse off dirt and debris from veggies and fruits.
10. Keep your shoes on.
Stash plastic grocery bags by the door to cover your muddy shoes in case you have to go inside before you are through gardening for the day.
11. Take baby steps.
Every minute is valuable when you're pressed for time. Take a few moments when you have them so chores don't pile up for the weekend. For instance, pluck a few weeds while waiting for the dog to finish his business outside or deadhead flowers while you're waiting for the school bus to drop off the kids.