Spring is the perfect time to start fresh, especially in the garden. Use late winter/early spring as time to prepare your garden for new blooms, plants and flowers.
If you just can’t wait to get to work in the garden this spring, here are a few secrets for getting a successful head start!
It’s All About Temperature
Air and soil temperature are the critical elements when planting a spring garden. For example:
- Cool-season vegetables need daytime temps in the 60s F and nights in the 40s F with an occasional light frost.
- Warm-season vegetables need daytime temps in the 70s-80s F with nights above 50° F, and they don’t tolerate frost.
- Planting seeds depends more on soil temperature than air temperature. If the soil can be warmed enough for the seeds to germinate, the growing plants may tolerate cooler air temps.
To get a head start in the garden, you’ll need to understand the temperature requirements of your plants, as well as the average spring planting time for your region.
Armed with this information and a good thermometer, you can try some of these tips to help Mother Nature warm things up more quickly.
Outdoor Early Planting Tips
Here are some tips to take advantage of the sunny days in early spring:
- Build a Cold Frame: A cold frame is a simple, low wooden frame with a glass or clear plastic top. It’s placed over seedlings in the garden or over a raised bed to give protection from those last frosty nights in early spring. Sort of like a mini-greenhouse, a cold frame keeps the air and soil inside about 5-10 degrees warmer than the surrounding garden to give you about a month head start on spring.
- Use Containers: Plant early veggies and flowers in containers that can be moved indoors at night and on chilly days. Try this tomato wagon for an easy moveable garden.
- Warm the Soil: Use black plastic, row covers, or solar plant cones to warm up your garden soil and make spring come early to your garden! Plastic helps hold in the sun’s heat, and you’ll get the added bonus of killing some of the weeds and pests under the plastic. Plan on a month of preheating for about a month’s head start. After preheating, you can remove the plastic or simply cut slits for your plants, leaving the plastic as mulch. The warmer soil will help seeds germinate outdoors, but make sure the nighttime air temperatures are above freezing before planting summer veggies.
- Add a Hotbed: You can purchase heating elements to turn your cold frame into a hotbed, or use the traditional manure-heated hotbed technique. A heating element allows you to have more control of the soil and air temperatures, allowing for seed planting and a head start on summer veggies like tomatoes and squash.
Here are some tricks to take advantage of sunny windowsills:
- Start Seeds Indoors: By the time the soil is warm enough to plant seeds outdoors, you’ve already missed some growing time. By starting seed flats in a sunny window, you can have seedlings ready to transplant by the time the weather warms up.
- Indoor Containers: Herbs and salad greens are easy to grow indoors in the winter, and you can simply snip off leaves as you need them. Indoor hydroponic systems go a step further to provide a sophisticated growing system for year-round vegetable harvests.
If you’re dead-set on gardening year-round, and you live in areas with freezing winters, you’ll have to create an artificially heated environment for tender plants. A greenhouse is a great way to extend the gardening season, with several choices:
- Unheated Greenhouse: Made of insulating glass or plastic, unheated greenhouses function like a large cold frame, giving only frost protection and few weeks’ head start.
- Cool Greenhouse: Are minimally heated to keep temperatures above 40° F, allowing you to grow cool-season vegetables all winter long and to get a couple months’ head start on warm-season vegetables.
- Warm Greenhouse: Hothouses keep temperatures above 50° F, allowing ambitious gardeners to grow summer veggies and herbs even in the dead of winter.
These tips from a professional landscaper will help get your garden ready for spring.
1. Remove Weeds
Removing weeds is one of the essential steps to prepare your garden for spring because doing so (and removing dead leaves and debris) can tidy up the space in which plants and flowers are to grow.
One of the easiest ways to do it is through hand weeding, which is most effective in dealing with broadleaf weeds. Make sure to pull weeds out while young to prevent them from spreading and thriving in your lawn.
In addition, it is important to catch the perennial weeds, such as dandelions, which can develop hard-to-pull, mature taproots. To remove them, yank the whole plant to prevent any roots from remaining underground. Otherwise, they’ll grow into new plants that you need to remove again.
TIP: Weed when the soil is moist! Once done weeding, reseed the spot or new weeds will take over.
2. ‘Re-Energize’ the Soil
Preparing the soil before spring is another way to get ready for the season.
Soil is already workable once the winter frost has lifted. It is also the perfect time to prepare the garden beds.
When soil is compacted, you need to loosen it again by turning or tilling it. Use a sharp spade or tiller to work your soil to a depth up to 14 inches.
Leaves or mulch that have composted will be mixed in soil in the process. For the fresh ones, you should remove them first.
Reenergize the soil by making adjustments and adding compost. First, you can do a soil test to check the nutrient and pH levels. Knowing these things, you’ll be able to figure out what to add or adjust.
● If you have clay-based or poor soil, add compost to improve its texture, moisture retention and nutrient content. Afterward, rake the soil evenly before watering slightly to help it settle.
● If the soil is very poor, another option is to add a raised garden bed.
3. Prune old plants
Old shrubs and trees need pruning at this time of the year — especially those that grow new wood. Prune the old wood in the late winter or early spring so that you can see the branch structure well.
In addition, you can shape the plants before those buds will break dormancy and begin putting their energy into their branches.
A few of the plants that can use a little pruning include:
● Flowering Dogwood
● Crepe Myrtle
● Butterfly Bush
● Summer-blooming Spirea
So, gear up and gather your tools from your garden shed. A few pruning tools you might need include a pruning saw, hand shears, long-reach pruner and topiary shears.
Pro Tip: Sterilize your pruners before going snip-happy for each cut; this will help prevent spreading plant diseases in the garden.
4. Prepare New Beds
In addition to these preparation tips, start setting up new planters and garden sheds in late winter or early spring.
However, do not be tempted to order more plants than the space available in your garden. Build garden beds and order new pots for just enough space for new plants.
You might also want to start tidying up the flower borders and beds. Devote time to remove debris and dead leaves from flowerbeds and borders. Additionally, you can cut back the dead growth of herbaceous perennials and grasses.
More so, you can prepare the new flowerbed and borders by clearing them out to bare soil. If you have a compost bin or pile, put the organic matter you have cleared away for it to break down and to be used as fertilizer for the soil.
Remove any weeds and put them into a brown bin or burn them. Do not compost them because they will germinate later and cause more problems.
Is the soil workable? Dig a 5-centimeter layer of organic matter, including recycled green waste, compost or well-rooted manure into garden borders.
5. Apply fertilizer
Before or early spring, apply fertilizer into the soil to enrich it with nutrients. For the best results, apply pre-emergent to prevent the growth of crabgrass. After eight weeks, apply them again in addition to a weed killer.
6. Add Mulch
Wherever you can, apply mulch in your garden to keep weeds from establishing themselves. After all, you might still have been waiting for seeds to germinate and not wanting to bury them in mulch. This problem is avoidable if you’ve already grown seedlings indoors.
● Don’t wait long before mulching, or weeds will start beating you!
● Use mulch with compost for healthier soil.
There you have it — tips to prepare your garden for spring!
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