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How to Prepare Your Vegetable Garden for Spring Planting

Updated on February 24, 2013

Plan Your Garden Now!

In the still-cold winter months, long before the first crocuses poke their colorful heads above the frigid turf, gardeners pour over their seed and plant catalogs, contemplating the coming summer’s harvest. By the time the weather warms enough to sow the first seeds; there is much you can do to ensure that your garden plot is ready. Before your region’s last expected frost date, you can prepare your garden for spring planting and, in doing so, you’ll see beneficial results as soon as your plants start to grow. Even if you’re not in competition with your neighbor to see who can produce the biggest tomato the soonest, your garden will benefit from some planning and preparation now.

Rotate Crops from Last Year

Plan to move your vegetables around to reduce the risk of plant-specific pests getting a foothold. If you grow tomatoes in one spot, year after year, each year, they’re more likely to develop tomato-specific diseases or fall prey to tomato-specific pests. By rotating your vegetables annually, however, you’ll spend less time and money treating them for plant-specific disorders.

Start Keeping Records

If you haven’t already, it’s time to start keeping a Garden Journal. Although you can find spiffy published journals, you don’t have to spend a lot of money. All you need is a loose-leaf notebook in which you can keep a record of the seeds and plants you’ve ordered, the company you ordered from and the date, plus plant specifics. A single page for each plant works well, because it gives you a place to record sowing date, germination rate and time, preferred soil and sun conditions and harvest outcome. Keep a sketch of your garden design.

Organic Gardening

Turn the Garden Soil When Weather Permits

Admit it, this is what you’ve been waiting for – a chance to get out in the garden and get some soil beneath your fingernails. Most regions experience seasonal days, even during mid-winter, when the surface of the soil warms enough to turn the garden with a shovel. The benefit to turning the soil is now is that future freezes are more likely to destroy burrowing pests just beneath the soil’s surface. If you covered your garden with an over-wintering mulch, turning it now, while the soil is still cold will distribute the mulch deeply where it can biodegrade.

Improve Your Soil

Amend Your Soil

Take a soil sample in late January through March to check your garden’s pH levels and to determine if you need to amend the soil by adding nutrients. Most county extension agencies offer soil-testing services or you can mail off your sample for an analysis. If your soil needs added nutrients, spread them now and work them in to give them a chance to disperse before planting.

Use a sharpshooter to dig perc holes.
Use a sharpshooter to dig perc holes.

Drainage Testing

Vegetables love water – but they hate standing water. Now is the time to correct drainage problems. If you’re considering a spot for a new garden, run a “perc test.” This is a simple test you can do with a sharpshooter shovel and a garden hose.

Dig a hole 1-foot deep and 6-inches wide. Fill the hole to the top with water and let it drain out. If the ground is frozen solid – it’s too soon to run this test. Once the original water has drained out of the hole, fill the hole once more and make a note of how long it takes the second filling to drain out completely. If it takes longer than 8 hours for the water to drain out, improving drainage should be a top priority.

Improving Soil Drainage

There are a number of things you can do to improve vegetable garden drainage:

  • · Spread 2-inches of organic compost, or dried leaves over the soil and turn the soil to a depth of 12-inches to work the organic matter deeply into the soil.
  • · Add earthworms to your garden. Earthworms are wonderful little aerators and they multiply over the years, so your soil just keeps getting better.
  • · Try sub-soiling if your garden is a large plot or a rural hobby farm. This is a more expensive, but helpful, solution. Sub-soiling is the process of loosening the soil to a depth of about 24-inches and it usually requires a heavy-duty tractor or bulldozer to pull a subsoiler shank that digs deeply to aerate the packed ground.

What are you doing to get your garden in shape?

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