In order to ensure the best results from your flower or vegetable garden, taking some time now to prepare and plan will give you the best results. So where to start….
1. Check your tools & supplies. Take the time now to make sure you have all the tools you need, that your blades are sharp and the hinges have all been oiled. Tools with cutting edges that are dull will have a negative impact on the vegetation that you cut. Don’t forget to add penetrating oil to remove and prevent corrosion. A tool that is well oiled and sharp will cut and dig so much more easily. Using the proper tool for the job not only makes the work easier on you, but it also treats the items in your garden better.
2. Clear out weeds, debris and mulch. Dead organic matter can go on the compost pile to break down. Well composted mulch or organic matter can be incorporated right back into the soil, but any “fresh” mulch needs to be raked away to expose the soil. Do a little clean up now to get that fresh soil exposed. It will pay off when you’re ready to plant.
3. Time to prune! Late winter / early spring is the perfect time to prune back old wood because you can see the branch structure well and can shape the plant before the buds break dormancy and the plant (tree / shrub) start investing energy into its branches. Before you start your pruning, here are a few things to consider. To prevent any plant disease around the garden, use a clean rag and some isopropyl to sterilize your pruners before each cut. Whenever you prune, it is always a great idea to add some fertilizer to the soil to ensure the plant has nutrients to heal the fresh wounds easily.
4. Now it’s time to prepare the soil. IN the winter months soil tends to compact. Once the frost has lifted and the soil is workable, it’s time to start preparing the garden beds. First on the list is to loosen up the soil by tilling or turning it. Using a tiller or a sharp spade you want to loosen the soil up to about 14 inches deep. Any mulch or leaf litter that is well composted can be mixed in now, but any that are still relatively “fresh” should be removed from the bed and added to the mulch bin. Now that your soil is loose, it is time to add amendments and compost. A soil test will allow you to see your soils PH which will tell you what minerals you might want to add. Nutrient content and moisture retention and soil texture are key to a successful and bountiful garden. Once you’ve done all this, rake the soil level, and water it lightly to help it settle and release any air pockets.
5. Setting up new planters and garden beds. Now is the time to add shepherd hooks, window boxes, pots and row markers. Make sure you have thought about what you want to plant to ensure you’re giving everything enough room to grow well. Don’t over crowd.
6. Divide your perennials and Daylilies. Some perennials tend to crowd each other out, causing their performance to deteriorate year over year. Daylilies, Shasta Daisies, Hostas, and many others all benefit from being divided in early spring. Before the growing season takes off, give these plants room to spread out by following these simple steps: (1.) Dig out around the perimeter of the clump, giving a wide berth so as not to damage the roots. (2.) Dig under the plant root ball and lift it out of the ground. (3.) Try to disentangle the roots by hand and pull apart the distinct root stocks/tubers. In some places it will be necessary to cut the clump apart with a knife. (4.) Evenly space the new divisions over a larger area and replant them immediately. This will improve the bloom show of these perennials, and it is a cheap and easy way to propagate a larger collection! Note: If your clump of perennials is too large to pull out of the ground, you may have to divide them while they are still in the ground by inserting two garden forks back-to-back into the middle of the clump and carefully pushing them apart, then lifting out the divisions for re-planting.
7. Early Planting. Get the first wave of planting done. Many plants can be started indoors this time of year for planting out in spring, and particularly hardy vegetables (onions, potatoes, artichokes, and some lettuces) are ready to be planted now. Look at the plant information for whatever you intend to plant. Bulbs and Perennials tend to be straightforward to plant—it’s really just dig, drop, done! Dig the hole at the proper depth and spacing, add any soil amendments necessary, add the bulb/root ball and be sure that the crown is right at soil level, then fill in the hole and water thoroughly. With Trees and Shrubs, here is a tip to help those roots settle into their new home: the moat method. Again, you should dig a hole large and wide enough to accommodate the plant’s roots, and add a cone of amended soil for the roots to rest on, then fill in the hole with more amended soil. But before you water in, create a ring of soil around the plant a bit wider than the original hole. This ring will act like a berm while you water the plant in, allowing you to really get the deep saturation necessary without turning the whole area into a mud pit. See the diagram for details.
8. Apply Mulch. Your last step is to apply mulch. A thick layer applied will be very effective in keeping weeds from becoming established. Because a thick layer of mulch does such a great job of preventing weed growth, it can also inhibit the seeds you are trying to grow as well. Instead of burying the seeds & seedlings with mulch, start them indoors and plant them once they’re ready. This will allow you to have a great layer of mulch and not inhibit the growth you actually want.
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