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Preparing your garden beds for spring


March 21, 2018 | View PDF

There are a variety of things you can do to prepare your garden for spring.

Gardening enthusiasts may have been thinking about their landscape plans throughout the winter, eager to once again get their hands dirty with soil. Whether a home gardener is making preparations for edible crops or beautiful flowers, he or she must take time to make the soil amenable to planting. To establish hearty, durable plants, gardeners can focus on three main areas: addressing soil composition, cultivating and adding nutrients.

"I like to replenish the beds at least once a year," said Aaron Hall, owner of Fruitful Farm and Nursery, which is located on Highway 530 east of Arlington. It opens for the season on April 27.

To replenish beds, gardeners should remove the weeds and leaves from their garden beds as early as possible before any seeds have a chance to germinate. Adding mulch helps conserve water, adds much-needed nutrients to the soil and it looks good too, Hall said.

He uses Cedar Grove compost in his fields and he likes to apply it during the spring. He added that a material such as beauty bark lacks the nutrients of mulch.

For vegetable beds, he adds manure to the soil and he also adds a cover with wood chips, which will help worms aerate the soil.

"Soil is a living organism basically," Hall said. Worms need organic matter in order to thrive.

He also likes to add lime to his soil on his farm around every two years, which helps make the soil less acidic.

He recommended that work to maintain the soil should take place as early as possible during the spring months.

"You're just going to have to wait for the weather," Hall said.

Home gardeners need to consider a variety of things when caring for the soil on their property.

Soil composition

Many gardeners prefer growing a variety of plants in their gardens. Such an approach requires taking inventory of the type of soil in one's garden and making the necessary modifications so that the types of vegetables, herbs, shrubs, or flowers that will be planted can grow in strongly. In fact, according to the plant company Proven Winners, the most important step to developing good roots is preparing the soil.

Take a sample of the soil and examine it to see what is present. If the soil is too full of clay, too sandy, too dense, or too loose, that can lead to problems where plants cannot grow in strong. Work with a garden center to add the right soil amendments to make a rich soil. This may include organic compost or manure, which will also add nutrients to the soil.


Cultivating the soil can involve different steps. Removal of weeds, errant rocks, roots, and other items will help prepare the soil. Mother Earth News suggests working on garden soil when the soil is damp but never wet, otherwise garden soil can become messy and clumpy. Use a digging fork or shovel to lightly turn the soil when it's mostly dry. Gentle tillings also can open up the soil to incorporate the nutritional amendments and relieve compaction that likely occurred from freezing temps and snow pressure. Tilling also helps with drainage and oxygen delivery to roots. The DIY Network suggests turning over soil at a depth of 12 inches to work the soil - about the length of a shovel spade. However, the resource Earth Easy says that existing garden beds have a complex soil ecosystem and simply top-dressing with compost or manure can be enough preparation for planting. Gardeners can experiment with the methods that work best for their gardens.


Testing the pH and the levels of certain nutrients in the soil, namely nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, will give gardeners an idea of other soil additions that may be needed. Soils with a pH below 6.2 often can benefit from the addition of lime several weeks before planting. Soil tests will determine just how much fertilizer to add to the soil. Complete fertilizers will have equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Individual fertilizers can amend the soil with only these nutritional elements that are needed.

Top-dressing empty beds with a layer of mulch or compost can prevent weed growth and preserve moisture until it is time to plant. If existing shrubs or plants are in garden beds, use more care so as not to disturb roots or dig too deeply.

Preparing garden beds takes some effort initially, but can be well worth the work when plants flourish throughout the growing season.


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