While the temperatures outside may not feel like it, spring is right around the corner. And gardeners everywhere are preparing for a productive growing season. It's time to break out the tools, tend to soil and prepare for spring planting.
It can be easy to forget all the tasks that need to be completed to grow a flourishing garden. Follow the list below to get your spring garden under way.
Pick your spot — If you're starting a new garden, choose a plot of land that maximizes your chances of a good harvest. Choose a location that is fairly level, near a water source and protected from intense winds. It should also receive at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.
Planting calendar — Regardless of whether you start seedlings indoors or purchase small plants to transplant into your garden, it's important to plant them at the right time. Create a planting calendar so that you know the optimal time to both plant and harvest your garden.
Ready your tools — About a month before planting, clean up your garden area and tools so everything is ready to go as soon as it's time to start working the soil. Fix broken gates and fences, and make sure all your tools are clean and in working condition. Remove any clumps of soil from tools using a hard-bristle brush, hose them down, and dry them off before storing. It's also recommended that this be done before tools are put away in the fall.
Compost — If you haven't already, try setting up a compost area in your garden. This could simply be a compost bin purchased at a home goods store, or you could build a compost bin yourself with scrap lumber. Not only will you have somewhere to put your garden waste, but your plants will benefit from the nutrient-rich compost created when it all breaks down. Make sure you have a good mixture of green material (grass clippings, vegetable scraps) and brown material (dead leaves, old mulch). To help the process along, you'll need to turn your compost with a garden fork or rake each month to keep it aerated.
Start indoors — Many plants won't grow well (or at all) if you simply put seeds directly into the soil. So, what should you do? Start growing from seed indoors in the weeks leading up to spring, and then transplant the small plants into the garden when they're ready to thrive. To start seeds indoors, begin by choosing a container. Small paper cups with holes punched in the bottom, cups made from newspaper, or folded cardboard all make great options since they can be added to the compost when you transplant the seedlings. Whichever method you choose, make sure the container is around 3 to 4 inches deep. Plant the seeds in soil then cover the containers loosely with plastic wrap or clear plastic bags; keep the seedlings covered until they start to germinate. And be sure the containers are exposed to light; either place them in an area that receives natural sunlight or place them directly under fluorescent lights.
Infuse soil — Cover your garden beds with at least a half-inch layer of good-quality compost. The compost will provide the soil with a fresh infusion of nutrient-rich organic material and improve the soil's ability to handle water and nourish your crops.
Prep garden beds — Clean out beds from debris including leaves, twigs, weeds and old vegetation. Then, focus on cultivating your soil. Over time soil can become compacted, so loosening it before planting should be a priority. Use a shovel or garden fork to turn the soil when it's dry and hard. This will prepare your garden soil for planting by helping it dry out and warm up, and it will allow the plant roots to penetrate the soil more easily.
Fertilize — Apply an organic fertilizer that is beneficial to the crops you plan to plant. Light feeders with shallow roots, such as lettuce, will be fine with a small amount of organic fertilizer raked into the top few inches of soil. For widely spaced plants or plants with deeper roots, it is recommended to enrich each planting hole with a mixture of compost and organic fertilizer just before you plant the seedlings.
Water — Last, apply a thorough soaking to all plants when moved into the garden. Continue to water each plant throughout the growing season as suggested. Not watering enough (or watering too much) is the No. 1 issue among new gardeners. If you have a rather large garden, create a watering calendar and set reminders to stay on top of your garden's needs.
Get started today so that your family can enjoy delicious fruits and vegetables and fresh-cut flowers all summer long!
Danielle Moser is a Reisterstown resident and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.