How To Get Your Garden Ready

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What could be more delightful than kneeling in the mud, pulling out weeds, with the soft spring sunshine on your back?

What is it about gardening that makes us so happy and peaceful? My entire life I’ve always found spending time planting and caring for plants to be soothing for my soul. I can spend hours out in the sun, even in poor weather, but especially in the sun, tending to my garden and slowly watching it grow over time. It can be very rewarding. All I know is that it makes me feel good connecting with nature and I’m grateful to be able to appreciate it.

To do a garden is not overly complicated you need to start it in the correct way. 

There are three basic types of beds you might be preparing.  The first type is a brand new bed that has never been planted before.  The second type is an empty bed that has been planted before and the third type is a bed with existing perennials, bulbs, and/or shrubs.

Preparing the soil in your beds don’t have to be difficult, although it is great exercise.  Adding organic matter is the one thing that all soils can benefit from whether your soil is sand or clay based.  The addition of organic matter is beneficial, even if you are blessed with loam soil.  Are there more in-depth steps that can be taken?  Sure.  However, this is a good place to start.  We have additional information on soil testing and amendments in another article. 

You may also be asking where you can get compost or organic matter.  You can make your own, you can buy it from your local garden center, or many municipalities have compost for sale or even for free.  Check with your local government for programs in your area.  In general, here are a couple of pointers until we have the compost article online:

1. Cow and chicken manure are very high in nitrogen and can burn plants if used in their pure form.  However, they make wonderful additions to the soil if you work them in well.  They also act as a natural slow-release fertilizer.  Most of these manure products are highly composted so look for something organic to add along with them to get the best of both worlds.  Peanut hulls, bark mulch (not bark nuggets, unless they are the 1/2″ size) or compost from your compost pile are all excellent options.

2.  Peat moss is commonly available, but also a very fine texture.  It can also be rather expensive.  While it cannot hurt to add this to your soil, it will most likely be entirely gone by next year.  So look for coarser products to extend the benefits of amending your soil.

Brand New Beds

The first step when planning to add a new flower bed or even if you are simply planting a tree or shrub is to check if there are any buried utility lines on your property.  Most areas should have a number you can call to check locations for these lines.  Check with your local government for the correct number to call.  In addition to public utility lines, you will want to make sure you have identified any irrigation lines that might be buried on your property. 

Rules of Thumb for Brand New Beds:

1.  Work the soil when it is moist, but not wet.

2.  Turn the soil over to a depth of at least 12 inches.

3.  Add 2-3 inches of compost and turn it into the bed.

4.  Either cover the bed with a thick (3-4″) layer of mulch or use a weed and feed to help keep weed seeds from germinating.

5.  Top dress with another layer of compost to keep down weeds and preserve moisture.

Existing Beds

The second type of bed is an existing bed that has nothing in it.  In other words, you are replanting in the same area you used last year.  With this type of bed, you can treat it similarly to the brand new bed, but it shouldn’t be necessary to layer the newspapers to kill existing vegetation.  In either fall or spring or in both seasons, put a 2 to 3-inch layer of compost on the bed and then turn the compost into the soil.  The single best thing you can do for your soil is to consistently add organic matter.  This will enrich the soil and help you grow better plants. 

Rules of Thumb for Existing Beds that are Empty:

1.  Add 2-3 inches of compost and turn it into the bed.

2.  Work the soil when it is moist, but not wet.

3.  Turn the soil over to a depth of at least 12 inches.

5.  Top dress with another layer of compost to keep down weeds and preserve moisture.

You Gardening helper, worms

Existing Beds With Plants

The third type of bed is one that already contains some perennials, bulbs and/or shrubs.  These beds can be a bit trickier.  You can’t simply broadcast a thick layer of compost and then turn it under.  You will need to be careful when working around the established plants that you don’t harm their roots.  You do still want to add organic matter.  This can be done either in spring or fall or in both spring and fall. 

Rules of Thumb for Existing Planted Beds:

1.  Add 2-3 inches of compost and work it into the top layer of soil, if possible

2.  Work the soil when it is moist, but not wet.

3.  Do not allow the compost to come into contact with plant stems

5.  Top dress with another layer of compost to keep down weeds and preserve moisture.

SOIL STRUCTURE AND DRAINAGE

The structure and consistency of your soil play a big factor in the success of your garden, too. Soil that holds too much water can promote fungal infections such as root rot, while soil that holds too little water can lead to malnourished and dehydrated plants. 

  • If you have clay soil, add coarse sand (not fine beach sand), compost, and peat moss to add texture and drainage to the soil.
  • If you have sandy soil, add humus or aged manure, peat moss, or sawdust with some extra nitrogen. Heavy, clay-rich soil can also be added to improve the soil.
  • If you have silt soil, add coarse sand (not fine beach sand), pea gravel and compost, or well-rotted horse manure mixed with fresh straw.

COMMON SOIL AMENDMENTS

These soil amendments are commonly used to adjust the consistency and content of garden soil:

  • Bark, ground: made from various tree barks. Improves soil structure.
  • Compost: excellent soil conditioner that adds nutrients. May also lower soil pH.
  • Leaf mold: decomposed leaves that add nutrients and structure to soil.
  • Lime: raises the pH of acidic soil and helps to loosen clay soil.
  • Manure: best if composted. Good conditioner.
  • Peat moss: a conditioner that helps the soil retain water and can lower soil pH.
  • Sand: improves drainage in clay soil.
  • Topsoil: usually used with another amendment. Replaces existing soil.

Now that you know the importance of high-quality soil, you’re ready to grow your best garden yet. Happy gardening! 

 

Preparing your garden soil for planting vegetables is vital to growing a productive garden that will put food on your table. I’ll share how to prepare your garden soil in 3 quick and easy steps so that you are ready to get your veggie seedlings planted as soon as the weather warms up. Grow your spring garden with me – let us learn together how quick, simple and inexpensive it is to grow your own food!

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