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Prepare your garden for spring planting

Published: 27th February, 2019

getting garden ready for springOver the winter months when it’s cold and rainy many of us neglect our gardens. But the weather has been beautiful over the last few days and it’s a perfect time to get out there and start doing some work to prepare your garden for spring planting. A successful garden begins with lots of preparation before any planting takes place. This includes aeration and replacing nutrients that have been worn away over the winter months.

The first step is to establish if your soil is ready to be worked. If you start working the soil too soon, while it is still soddened from winter rains, it can form dense, heavy clumps which then become exceedingly difficult to break up.

Begin your ground preparation with a clean-up of last year’s dead plants and foliage as well as removing any early weeds that have already managed to get a hold. Catching weeds now before they start flowering means there will be fewer to fight in the summer. As you clear, try to minimise the amount you stand on your beds which will compact the soil.

One of the most important things that you can do at the start of a gardening season is to incorporate more air into the soil. A plant’s roots need to breath and they can’t do that if there isn’t air between the soil particles. Air in the soil holds atmospheric nitrogen that can be converted into a usable form for plants. Soil oxygen is also crucial to the survival of soil organisms that benefit plants. Introduce air into the soil by inserting a garden fork and raising the forkful of soil slightly. Resist the urge to dig the bed; established beds have a complex soil ecosystem which is best left undisturbed – not to mention causing root damage to any existing plants leaving them more vulnerable to pests and diseases. Simply push in the fork and rock it backwards to gently lift and loosen the soil. It is not always easy to use a fork in small beds or other tight locations of the garden. If this is the case, it may be necessary to hand drive a single spike into the soil to aerate compacted soil.

Each spring it’s important to replace the nutrients and organic matter that were absorbed by plants last season. Top dress garden beds with compost or well-seasoned manure in preparation for planting. A 3-5cm layer of compost such as horse manure or home-made leaf compost is ideal. Nutrients added from the top will work their way down into the soil, so it only needs gently raking into the surface. At this point you may also want to add some slow release fertiliser, especially if you are preparing a brand new bed or vegetable garden.

Complete your spring soil prep with mulching. It’s an ideal time to mulch while there is still moisture in the soil and as it composts down over the course of the coming season it will be a source of organic matter that your garden will appreciate.  Covering bare spots with mulch will also minimise the emergence of new weeds. One of the big MUST NOTS when mulching is to place it right up to the base of trees and shrubs. It is a place for insects and diseases to hide, it keeps the trunks wet which encourages mould and is generally not good for your plants. Leave a 10-15cm gap between the edge of the mulch and the trunks of the tree or shrub. If you have mulch from last season which is not fully composted into the soil, before you add a new layer turn the old layer over with a garden fork or rake so that it does not become too compacted and create a barrier to water getting into the soil.

Having completed your preparation if it’s vegetable beds and you want to get a jump start on the season, cover them with polythene tunnels. This protection will prevent them being saturated by cold rains and enable earlier planting than on open ground.

Spring is such an exciting time; it’s an excuse to start fresh. Hopefully with these tips, you’ll get a head start on preparing your garden for spring planting.

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