How to Prepare a Garden for Spring

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Testing the soil, cleaning up garden beds, preparing the garden soil and making a planting plan are four main components of preparing your garden for spring. By following a few simple steps, allowing yourself a few weeks to get the garden in order and investing some sweat equity, your garden will be ready for spring.

Soil Testing

Things You'll Need

  • Soil testing kit
  • Spade or soil sampling tool

While it is best to take a soil test during the prior growing season, if you have not done so, use a spade or soil sampling tool to take a soil sample and determine the fertility of your soil in early spring. Instructions on how to sample the soil are included with the kit, and soil sample kits can be obtained from most cooperative extension offices. They include a minimal lab fee to analyze the sample.

Recommendations for amending the soil are included with the test results and include an analysis of the following:

  • The macronutrients nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium
  • Micronutrients that vary by region but may include iron, manganese, zinc, copper and boron
  • Select metals such as aluminum and lead
  • Soil pH, a measure of soil acidity.

Soil test results may also include an organic matter analysis.

Bed Clean Up and Preparation

Things You'll Need

  • Garden gloves
  • Hand pruners
  • Leaf rake
  • Half-moon edger or flat-head garden spade
  1. Put on gloves, and then use hand pruners to cut back any perennials that weren't cut back in fall. Ornamental grasses and other perennials should be cut back before new growth emerges.
  2. Rake out garden beds to remove any debris or leaves, as well as any winter mulch you may have placed the prior fall to protect perennials. If weeds have started to grow and remain rooted after raking, pull those by hand.
  3. Edge beds with a half-moon edger or flat-headed garden spade. Dig the edger or spade into the ground along the length of bed to make a straight cut, creating a clean professional-looking edge. Remove any chunks of cut-away grass from the bed and add them to the compost pile.

Soil Preparation

Things You'll Need

  • Garden gloves
  • Spade or gardening fork
  • Compost
  • Grass clippings
  • Soil amendments as needed

When your beds have dried up from the winter saturation, usually mid- to late spring, you can begin working the soil. Working the soil too early results in compacted, clumpy soil, so be sure to wait until the moisture content has decreased.

If you planted cover crops, begin by working them into the soil with a spade or fork. Apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of compost on top of the soil and turn over the soil and new material, digging several inches to loosen the soil and mix in the compost. Grass clippings can also be added.

If recommended by your soil test, apply any soil amendments. Ideally this is done a few weeks before planting to allow the amendments time to take action. Compost, however, has the advantage of releasing nutrients slowly and thus can be installed when planting.

Tip

  • Applying a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch once you have planted helps control weeds, retain moisture and add organic content to your planting beds.

Planting Plan

Once garden beds are ready, assess where you would like to plant by considering any gaps you may have and where you would like to add color, height or texture. Before you purchase new plants or seeds, make sure you know and follow recommended planting times, planting past your local expected last frost date for frost-sensitive plants.

Spring is the ideal time to plant due to moderate temperatures. Shrubs, perennials, summer-flowering bulbs and annuals can all be planted in spring, with most annuals planted after the last expected frost date has passed.

Spring is also an ideal time to transplant, when excessive heat does not additionally stress the plant. Dividing perennials allows you to thin out overcrowded garden beds and fill in gaps elsewhere.

Tip

  • Prepping your garden for winter can lighten your load in spring.

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