Even if your garden is sleeping under a blanket of leaves or snow, spring is on the way, and it’s time to prep your garden beds. Ideally, you tested your soil last fall and added any necessary amendments. (If you didn’t, it’s not too late. Read on.) Are you ready? Let’s get a little dirt on our hands.
Start your garden prep by cleaning and tidying up your beds. But don’t rush the season. You can do more harm than good if you walk around in your garden while the ground is soggy or icy. Walking around now will compact the soil, making it difficult for plant roots to penetrate, and digging will leave clods of dirt you’ll struggle to break apart.
When the soil is dry enough, pull up any dead annuals or vegetables still standing in the garden. Also prune or cut back perennials and ornamental grasses to encourage vigorous, healthy, new growth.
Toss the debris in your compost pile, unless you see signs of pests or diseases. If you do, trash the plant parts to avoid spreading problems.
Remove any grass, rocks, weeds and twigs from your planting spot. Weeds can re-sprout from chopped-up roots, so be as thorough as you can.
Now you’re ready to dig in. Loosen the soil by digging or tilling 6 to 8 inches deep. Dig or till up to 12 inches deep for root crops like carrots and potatoes, or plan to grow them in hills, which are flat-topped mounds of loose soil. Root crops will also thrive in raised beds filled with lots of good soil and organic matter.
If you didn’t test your soil last fall, you can still do so now. Use a home test kit or send a soil sample to your county extension service. Then add any lime, garden sulfur or nutrients the test recommends. A fall application gives amendments more time to meld with your native soil, but they’ll help improve your garden even if you’re adding them now.
Also add lots of good organic matter to your garden bed, such as shredded leaves, compost, and / or dehydrated manure. Organic materials loosen the soil’s structure, improving drainage and allowing roots to penetrate more easily. Turn your amendments and organic matter into the loosened soil, so everything is mixed together.
Top off your bed by mulching it with several inches of organic matter.
Prepping a Raised Bed
If you’ve never gardened in a raised bed, it’s easy to assemble one from a kit. If you’re prepping a raised bed you’ve used before, top it off with more soil, if needed, and mix in any amendments as indicated by a soil test. Finish by mulching the raised bed with a few inches of organic matter.
Make a list
Before you plant, make a list of plants you want to grow. Be sure to shop early, since many popular varieties sell out fast. Jot down any seed starting supplies you need, too, such as peat pots, trays or seed starting mix. Consider using some grow lights if you’re starting a lot of seeds indoors or if you don’t get enough bright light from your windows. You may also want to invest in a seed propagating heat mat, which supplies gentle heat underneath your pots or trays to help plant roots develop faster.
Check your seed packets when you buy them, and mark the dates to start your seeds on a calendar. You — and your garden beds — will be ready to go when spring arrives.
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