Steps for new gardeners to get garden beds ready for spring.
As longer days bring less winter chill, the mind of every gardener turns to their spring garden plans. Whereas the wise old gardener knows that a good garden plan is the key to each year’s success, new gardeners tend to get over anxious as spring nears. The waning days of winter sometimes make novices run when they should walk, leading to mistakes that bring disappointment.
But those mistakes are valuable experience, as any veteran gardener will tell you. We’ve all learned lessons from doing things the wrong way. Gardening mistakes teach us that in order to be good stewards of our gardens and the life that flourishes there, we need to learn patience and to always take the right steps in the right order.
Here then are some pointers on how to transition a garden from winter to spring.
- After winter weather has receded, check all of your plants for any snow or ice damage. Are there broken tree branches? Damaged bushes? Appropriate steps need to be taken to remediate damage as soon as you discover it, as plants will resume growing as the days become longer and the weather warms. Damaged plant tissue is an invitation to insects, fungi and molds, which will take advantage of the warming weather and easy access to the plant.
- Clean up dead or dying plant debris from the previous season to create a healthy bed for new plants. Aerate garden beds with a hand cultivator to loosen the top layer of soil so air and water can easily feed plant roots. You should also add a generous amount of compost or manure and an organic fertilizer early in the season.
- During winter, decide on what you want to plant in spring and summer. This will give you time to do some research on your favorite flowers, vegetables and fruit. Research is very valuable in learning how, when and where to plant seeds and seedlings correctly to yield best results. For beginning vegetable gardeners I highly recommend buying The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Ed Smith. It’s a well organized book which I still refer to today.
- Buy strong, durable garden tools. Don’t reach for the prettiest or cheapest. Working with cheap garden tools that break, aren’t sharp or otherwise don’t do the job properly is immensely frustrating and can actually damage your plants. Before you buy a new tool, make sure it feels comfortable in your hand and it feels like you can apply substantial pressure to it without the tool snapping in two. The must-have gardening tools are a digging shovel, hand trowel (for digging small, shallow areas), hand garden cultivator (for aerating) and a garden pruner.
- Make a garden plan. Look at your property and note where the sun hits it and at what time of day. Make a note of sunny areas and shady areas, morning sun and afternoon sun, very dry areas and very wet areas. Knowledge of your landscape is imperative, as installing a beautiful plant in the wrong part of your yard makes for a huge disappointment when it mysteriously dies. Know if your plant likes sun or shade, part sun or part shade, dry soil, wet soil, or something in between. Once again, do a little research. You’ll also have to experiment a little. If a plant you love isn’t thriving in one area, move it to another and see how it does there.
- Buy plants from a reputable garden nursery. Some large nursery centers (like certain big box stores) don’t give proper care to plants when they’re on the lot. Don’t buy plants if they’re crispy brown, the top of the potting medium is bone dry, or if leaves are falling off, are discolored or look chewed. All of these are signs of stress and possible infestation and the chance that your plant will survive, much less thrive, is doubtful.
- Learn how to plant flowers, vegetables, shrubs and trees correctly. The general guide is to gently separate the roots from the planting medium and make sure the hole is three times as wide as the plant’s root ball. Your hole should also have about one quarter finished compost in it, mixed in with the soil that came from the hole. After planting, cover the planting area with 2-3 inches of compost to insulate the plant’s roots from heat and to retain moisture. Skipping these basics doesn’t give your plant a fair chance. As they say, “better a five dollar hole for a fifty cent plant than a fifty cent hole for a five dollar plant”.
- Buy or make a compost bin as soon as possible. Composting is key to a garden’s success, as it rejuvenates soil and adds biological elements that bottled or bagged fertilizers simply can’t provide.
- Read gardening books. New gardeners should read as much as possible on organic gardening to create a healthy environment for their plants and themselves.