Whether you are getting ready to plant fruits and vegetables, or planning a beautiful flower garden, there are things that you must do in order to guarantee the best results for your garden this spring. This post, along with materials (see video and Pinterest page) from the Kenton County Public Library should help.
Preparing your garden doesn’t have to be complicated. Enjoy a sunny afternoon by donning your gardening gloves and taking these four easy, basic steps for gardens big or small, perennial or vegetable.
1. Basic Maintenance
Start your spring gardening with some basic maintenance. Remove any covers you used to protect plants during the winter, and perform any repairs or servicing on gardening tools and equipment. Better to have problems with the lawnmower fixed now, rather than mid-summer.
Take a walk around the garden looking for signs of winter damage. Paving stones may heave with freezing and thawing, fences may need repainting or repair work, and decks need cleaning.
2. Prepping Garden Beds
Winter snow or rain compacts bedding soil, so you’ll need to prep your beds in advance of planting. Remove winter mulch or, if it’s compostable, dig it into the soil. Use a spading fork to aerate the soil, breaking up clogs of dirt. You want to make the soil lighter and capable of holding water and air.
At this point it is time to test the soil for deficiencies and amend if necessary.
The tests provide the levels of pH, nitrate, phosphorus, potassium, organic matter and sometimes lead and other metal levels. It is recommended to test the soil each season with a home soil test kit you can buy at the hardware store.
Amending the Soil
Based on the results of your soil test, follow these guidelines to amend the soil:
- Adding nutrients and organic matter
to the soil before planting because plants absorb nutrients as they become available.
- Most amendments placed in the soil before the planting are dry amendments such as blood meal, seaweed, wood ash, compost and manure.
- The dry amendments should be incorporated into the soil in the top 4 to 8 inches of soil as plant roots stay above 12 inches deep
You can either purchase seedlings, start your own seeds indoors, or sow seeds directly outdoors.
The best place to purchase seedlings is at your local garden nursery or farmer’s markets. You’ll find plants that are ready to go in the ground that are specific to your climate.
- Pros/Cons—seedlings come ready to plant. On the other hand, starts are more expensive and give you a smaller selection of varieties to choose from.
- Be sure to look for and purchase healthy looking starts with green leaves and healthy stems. Dying or yellowing leaves may indicate disease or lack of nutrients.
- Don’t buy starts that are overgrown. Their roots can be bound if allowed to stay in the little pots, which deprives the plant of a healthy beginning. You also don’t want a leggy plant. While its height may look impressive it means it had to compete for light, which makes it less healthy.
- A good test to tell if a plant is overgrown is to look at the bottom of the container. If the roots are protruding from the holes in the bottom of the container the plants may be root bound.
- Check out your local nurseries, farmers markets and special plant sales for some more unusual varieties that do well in your growing conditions.
What to Look for in Seedlings
- Short, stocky with deep green color.
- Avoid top-heavy plants and plants that are already fruiting, these are too old.
- Don’t select plants with discolored leaves, plants that are wilting or have chew marks, as these are signs of pest damage and disease.
Starting Seeds Indoors
- Pros/Cons—starting from seed is more cost effective and allows you to pick unique varieties, but it does require some pre-planning to make sure you get the seeds or starts outdoors at the right time.
- Temperature is the key to germination, so follow temperature suggestions to try and optimize the range of temperatures a specific plant needs.
- There are lots of seed starting kits available that really make it easy to set up and get going fast.
- Plant 3 times the amount you will need to account for non-starters or seeds that dry out.
- Look for a place where you can give them watchful care to ensure the seeds stay moist and warm.
- Some plants are a real challenge to start from seed such as asparagus, garlic, and onions.
- Some seeds have need light to germinate, and some need to be soaked overnight. Check the seed packet for instructions.
When to Transplant Seedlings
- Plant seedlings outdoors after the last chance of frost for your particular hardiness zone. Find your specific zone here.
- As a general rule the younger the plant, the less transplant shock it suffers. Older plants have a harder time regenerating new root hairs and roots to replace those lost when they were uprooted.
- Seedlings should be set out as soon as they reach optimal size: They should have at least 3 to 5 true leaves and shouldn’t be much taller than the depth of their container. Size will vary by variety.
- Hardening off is the process which exposes them gradually to natural outdoor conditions.
- Begin the process of hardening off plants by putting them outside during the daytime in a protected area of the garden to expose them to slightly lower temperatures and bring them back indoors at night.
- You should also reduce watering, waiting until they are almost stressed before watering again. Don’t fertilize again until they are transplanted out.
- Once you’ve increased the amount of time outdoors in the elements, begin to plant in the ground, this process is specific to each plant. Generally taking 1 to 2 weeks depending on variety.
- Take the seedling out of the container and loosen the roots.
- Dig a hole in the desired location with a hand shovel or your hand.
- Water the hole to ensure moisture to the roots and add the root supporting mix.
- Take off the bottom leaves of the plant to focus its energy on growing larger and place the transplant in the hole.
- Cover with soil and water lightly.
Starting Seeds Outdoors
- Some plants, such as carrots, cannot be easily transplanted. Direct sow these seeds in your garden.
- Poke a hole in the soil to the proper depth, as described on the variety’s seed packet, place a seed in the hole, and cover with soil. Water seeds thoroughly after planting.
- Young seedlings are susceptible to getting eaten by critters, so try to protect them outdoors as much as possible, either with straw or row covers.
Be sure to prune fruit trees before the new buds develop. Spring is also the time to prune late-summer and autumn bloomers, which grow on this season’s new growth. Leave pruning spring bloomers until the fall.
Check your perennials and see if they need dividing. If they do, divide them now before the plants start their spring growth. You can swap divided perennials with your friends for seedlings or mature plants.