Rising temperatures and longer days signal that it's time to prepare your garden for spring. The last days of winter are the perfect time to get back into the great outdoors—even if it's just in your backyard—and get those beds ready for spring planting.
Once the soil is workable (in other words, moist rather than muddy) grab a spade and your favorite pair of gardening gloves and head outside. A bit of work now will result in a bountiful garden later, so don't be afraid to get your hands dirty!
1. Start by clearing your beds of any accumulated debris or weeds. Using a spade, fork or sturdy trowel, loosen the soil to a depth of at least 12 inches, breaking up any areas that compacted over the winter due to rain or snow. Working the ground to this depth will aerate the soil, helping it to dry out and warm up, all of which will allow plants to root more easily and deeply later in the season.
2. Once you've loosened the soil, work in your choice of organic compost. This nutrient-rich material will replenish the soil while improving both its drainage and its ability to retain moisture. You can purchase compost at nurseries or home centers, or best of all, you can easily make your own from kitchen, yard or garden waste.
3. Test your soil to determine factors such as soil type, pH, and drainage. If tests indicate you need to amend your soil, add amendments such as sand, vermiculite, grass clippings or coffee grounds after you've worked in the compost.
4. Finally, rake the soil to create a level surface. Now it's time to plan your planting map and schedule!
5. Plan out which types of vegetables or flowers you'll plant based on where in the garden they'll grow best. Mark out your garden space depending on factors such as:
- Amount of sunlight (Do plants thrive in full sun? Partial sun? Mostly shady spots? Most vegetables prefer sunny sites.)
- Soil type
- Soil moisture
6. Choose plants that share similar needs and place them together in corresponding parts of the garden. You may also want to choose companion plants that complement each other, such as tomatoes and basil, corn and beans, or broccoli and onions.
7. You may choose to start plants from seed or purchase seedlings from the nursery. Either way, you'll want to start or plant at the right time. First, determine your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone. These regional charts organize the U.S. into zones based on average temperatures, helping you decide which plants will grow best in your area and when you should start planting.
8. As a general rule, plants that can be started outdoors in early spring's cooler weather include potatoes, onions, artichokes, lettuces, broccoli, and cabbages.
9. Plants that need more warmth may be planted outdoors later in the spring, or indoors while it's still cool outside. These include beans, corn, melons and tomatoes.
Spending the time and effort to prepare your garden helps ensure a fresh, bountiful spring. Enjoy your harvest!