By Mimi Greenwood Knight
It was author Bailey White who wrote, “Your best gardening is always in the future.” That’s certainly true for me. There’s no garden lusher and more bountiful than the garden I’m planning to plant. When my spring seed catalogs arrive in December, I spend hours by the fireplace sipping tea and strategizing the beds I’ll plant in spring. But there’s much more to do right now than daydreaming.
Prepare to Prepare
Here’s something I didn’t know as a new gardener. You should sterilize your garden tools before using them each spring. That’s because any remaining plant sap or dirt and debris can hold bacteria or fungal spores that you could inadvertently introduce into the bed. To do this, soak your garden tools in a solution of 10% bleach to 90% water for half an hour to kill any soil pathogens. Rinse well, then spend some time sharpening your tools, oiling, and removing any rust.
It’s time to add nutrients, ensure your soil isn’t compacted, and remove weeds. Do your best to remove the roots of the weeds before they start to seed in the spring. Turn the top six to eight inches of soil in your beds (unless you’re using a no-till gardening method) to find any overwintering pests and remove them. Turning your soil is especially important if you had problems with cutworms since they’re one of the earliest pests to emerge in the spring and can kill your seedlings before they have a chance to start.
There’s no garden lusher and more beautiful than the garden i’m planning to plant.
Assess Your Soil
Send a soil sample to your local agricultural extension service for a soil test. For a minimal fee, they’ll tell you what minerals your soil is lacking so you can amend it before you plant. Loosen compacted soil to provide airflow and make it easier for young roots to grow. You can do this by adding perlite or organic matter like compost, which will add air and retain moisture. Top off raised beds as needed making sure any soil you add is clean and free of weed seeds and garden pests.
Finish with Fertilizer
Whether your garden is a feast for the eyes or a feast for your table, it needs to be fed before it will feed you. Fertilize a couple of weeks before planting. Or you can work in slow-release granular fertilizers for long-term nutrient boosts. The fertilizer you add will depend on what you plan to plant. Refer to your soil sample results and do some research on what your plants will need to thrive. Tomatoes, for instance, enjoy a kick of calcium to prevent blossom-end rot. But your petunias might prefer phosphorous.
Now’s the time to order all of those gorgeous spring bulbs and seeds, too. Have fun planning and replanning your beds. This stage can bring as much enjoyment as the actual planting and growing.
Help with Your Planning
For the past several years, I’ve received help planning my gardens with a membership to the Grow Veg Garden Planner at GrowVeg.com. With the garden planner, I only had to diagram my garden layout (nine large, raised beds) once, and I can transfer that layout to my new plan each season.
The planner keeps track of what I’ve planted previously and suggests plant rotation for me. For each plant I’m considering, the planner offers planting suggestions, including soil type, watering schedule, sun exposure, and recommends companion plantings. Then they remind me via email when it’s time to sow (indoors) or plant (outdoors) a plant in my plan.