Warmer weather, longer days, spring showers — it is time to gear up for gardening!
Whether you are breaking ground for a new garden or getting an existing bed in shape for spring, a little preparation goes a long way. Here is how to get your garden ready for spring planting.
Starting from scratch
Before breaking ground for a new garden, make sure the potential site has adequate sun exposure. Full sun plants need six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. Partial sun plants require three to six hours of sunlight, and shade plants need less than three hours daily.
Look up and around the potential site for trees, structures or fences that may cast shadows as the sun moves from east to west. I once established a new vegetable garden bed in early spring before the trees had leaves. In summer’s full foliage, my garden was shaded out.
After locating a sunny site, remove turf and weeds. You can accomplish this in several ways. Removing turf by hand is the most effective method, but also the most labor intensive. Use a sod-cutter to cut and lift turf and then remove it with a flat-edge shovel.
Another option is to kill turf with a nonselective herbicide like glyphosate. It may take multiple chemical applications over several weeks to kill grass. Make sure to read the label and follow directions.
Black plastic sheet mulch is an alternative method. Cover the site with black plastic, secure it to the ground and leave it in place for three to four weeks. The sun heats the plastic and smothers grass and weeds. You can purchase specialty black landscaping plastic from a garden center. I save cash by purchasing 4 mil rolls of black contractor plastic from the hardware store instead.
Get your soil in shape for spring
Whether you have a brand new garden or an existing garden test your soil to determine nutrient needs for the growing season. A soil test identifies deficiencies and diagnoses pH problems. A professional test from a lab costs about $20. Expect results in one to two weeks. Contact your county Extension office to locate a reputable lab near you.
Soil test results will prescribe amendments to improve your soil. Work the recommended amendments into the top six inches of soil with a garden fork or cultivator.
To till or not to till
I love the look of a fresh-tilled garden, but too much tillage depletes nutrients and damages soil structure. Only till when it is necessary. Instead of tilling, try using black plastic sheet mulch to smother winter’s overgrowth (see process above).
Gardeners often make the mistake of working the ground when it is too wet in attempt to get a head start on planting. Tilling wet ground causes soil compaction. Fertilizing before or after a heavy rain result in run-off. The consequences of planting in wet soil are poor germination, over-seeding, uneven emergence and weak stand. After heavy rainfall, allow soil to dry out before working.
Ready, set, wait…
Now your garden is ready for spring planting, but fight the urge to plant too early. Spring is a showcase of wild temperature fluctuations that can kill plants. In southern Ohio our final frost typically occurs late April; however, last spring we experienced a killing frost the second week of May. Find your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone and the expected final frost date at www.planthardiness.ars.usda.gov, and keep an eye on the local weather forecast.