Regardless of geographical location, gardeners rejoice for the return of Spring. After the ground has thawed a bit, it is time to begin preparing garden plots. Before planting, it is important to follow a few precautionary steps.
Decide When To Begin Planting
- Prior to planting anything in the garden, learn what the last frost date is by contacting the county’s agricultural extension office.
- Based off this date, make a tentative time-line for the completion of early spring garden preparations, including cool-weather crop planting.
Prepare Garden Beds
- Weeding perennial weeds such as chickweed and chicory is often one of the first chores in the garden. A helpful aide when weeding is to keep the soil slightly moist. This will allow roots to be pulled in one piece and with greater ease versus attempting to wrestle them out of hard, packed soil.
- To lessen the number of times this chore is repeated in a season (and the amount of time taken away from more enjoyable gardening activities), some gardeners choose to lay black plastic or weed control fabric down prior to planting. This method effectively prevents sunlight and sufficient oxygen from reaching immature weeds, thus choking them out.
- Mulching is another preferred method of non-chemical weed control. By adding around 2″ of mulch, not only are weeds choked out, but moisture is kept in. Mulch helps soil retain water and stay cool in even the sunniest of locations, but beware of when mulch is laid because mulch reduces soil temperature. Applying it too early will only lengthen the amount of time before anything can be safely planted.
- After weeding garden bed(s), test the soil using a soil testing kit purchased from a local hardware store, or send a sample to a lab suggested by the county’s extension office. Learning the pH and mineral composition of soil is a major element for a thriving garden. The pH of soil is a measure of acidity or alkalinity, ranging between 0 and 14, where 7 is neutral, 0 is highly acidic, and 14 is highly alkaline (base).
Depending on plant material, pH, mineral levels, and organic material may be added increase or decrease to satisfy their needs. The most common amendments added to soil are lime (to reduce acidity), phosphorous, nitrogen, and potassium. Other materials such as peat, manure, and vermiculite are also added to improve organic composition and drainage.
Prepare Garden Tools and Accessories
- Sharpen all hand pruners, saws, shears, and lawn mower blades. Keeping a sharp pruner and saw ensures not only a good, clean cut for plants, but also protects personal safety as well. Most hand pruners have blades that can be sharpened at home using a whet stone. If this is uncomfortable to do, replacement blades are often inexpensive and worth the investment.
- Take an inventory of the tomato cages and other plant supports that made it through last season. Early spring is often the best time to stock up on these items due to the fact that stores will have more varieties in stock. Supporting the heavy heads of flowers, such as peonies, promotes a healthier plant and keeping vegetable plants vertical reduces the chance of certain insects from reaching the developing fruit and buds.