How to Prepare the Ground for an Outdoor Vegetable Garden

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The best time to break ground for a new vegetable garden is in the fall. Fall preparation gives any amendments, such as compost or manure, time to do their work enriching the soil and making it garden-ready for spring. If preparing a new area, you'll want to kill as much of the grass as you can to reduce the amount of back-breaking work involved in removing thick pieces of sod and shaking the soil out of them. If planning the garden in a bare spot, the soil will most likely still need some help to improve its nutrient content and drainage capabilities.

Things You'll Need

  • Newspaper
  • Cardboard
  • Old carpeting
  • Garden spade
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Rake
  • Hoe
  • Wooden stakes
  • String
  • Compost
  • Manure
  • 10-10-10 or 5-10-5 fertilizer
  • Straw or plastic garden mulch
  • Stake out the area for the vegetable garden in the early fall, and run string between the stakes. Lay old carpeting, cardboard or a thick layer of newspaper across the entire area to kill any grass or weeds. Overlap the sections so no weeds or grass can poke through, and water the entire area heavily if using newspaper or cardboard to keep it from flying away.

  • Remove the mulch in the spring and discard. Clear the soil of any large clumps of grass or weed roots, rocks, or any other debris. Spread a 2-inch layer of compost or manure across the entire area and work it in to a depth of about 6 inches, or apply 10-10-10 or 5-10-5 commercial fertilizer according to package directions based on the size of the area you will be planting.

  • Break the ground on a grassy area in the fall or early spring, without using the mulch method, by staking it out and cutting out a narrow strip with the garden spade all along the outer edge following the string line. Shake the soil from the sod pieces over a wheelbarrow to be returned to the garden later. Discard the sod.

  • Remove all the grass by cutting into it with the edge of the spade. Shake the soil from the sod pieces over the wheelbarrow, and discard them or add them to the compost pile. Continue until all the sod has been removed from the area. Rake the soil, removing any stray clumps of grass, weeds, roots, stones and other debris.

  • Lay a 2-inch layer of compost or manure over the garden and dig it into the soil to a depth of about 6 inches, or apply a granular 10-10-10 or 5-10-5 fertilizer according to the directions on the package for the size garden you are preparing and dig it in well.

  • Water the entire area and cover it completely with plastic gardening mulch or straw if you don't plan on planting anything right away to keep any weeds or grass from sprouting again. Remove the mulch or separate it to make rows when it's time to plant, or cut holes in the plastic mulch in which to set individual plants such as tomato or green pepper seedlings.

Tips & Warnings

  • Using straw as a mulch over the entire garden makes good organic sense, as it adds extra nutrients to the soil while as it decomposes. Be sure to use only straw, as hay still has the seed heads attached to it, which can germinate once they come into contact with the soil.
  • At any point during the preparation for your new vegetable garden, it's a good idea to have a soil test done by your local county extension office, or you can buy a soil test kit at garden centers or hardware stores. The test will tell you the pH value, or the acidity, of your soil, as well as any nutrients it might be lacking.

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References

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