It’s time to start getting your garden ready for spring planting! One essential step in planning and growing a successful garden is soil prep. By taking the time to prepare your soil, you can create a healthy environment for your plants to thrive in. By getting this done now, you’ll give your garden soil plenty of time to absorb nutrients so that your young seedlings will have an inviting new home to grow in.
Clear the Area & Loosen Soil
First off, you’ll want a clear area to plant in. You may have done some of this work in the Fall season, which will make things easier. Now is the time to move any debris, rocks, or weeds from the area you plan to plant. You can use a rake or hoe to clear the area. If you grew any cover crops, now is a good time to mow or till the green matter into your soil. Loosening any compacted soil with a garden fork or tiller will also make it easier for plant roots to grow and access nutrients.
Test Your Soil & Add Amendments
In an earlier segment on soil testing, we discussed why and how to get your soil tested. Testing the soil will give you an idea of the nutrient levels, pH levels, and other factors that may affect plant growth. If the soil test reveals any deficiencies, you can amend the soil by adding fertilizers or other soil amendments. Contact your cooperative extension office for testing, which is often very inexpensive or even free! You can also purchase kits at home and garden centers.
Compost is a nutrient-rich soil amendment that can help improve soil structure and fertility. This dark, crumbly, soil-like substance is filled with beneficial microorganisms and nutrients that plants need to grow. In addition to improving soil fertility, compost can also help improve soil structure. Soils that are high in clay or sand can be difficult for plant roots to penetrate, but by adding compost, you can improve soil porosity, allowing roots to grow more easily.
To add compost to your soil, you can simply spread a layer of compost over the top of your soil and mix it in using a garden fork or tiller. After applying, watering the area helps the nutrients to incorporate into the soil.
It’s easy to make your own, but if you don’t already have some ready to go, it’s usually easy to find a quality source. Check with local gardening associations, farmer’s markets, and farmers for inexpensive sources. Other sources include mushroom farms, landfills, and zoos which often sell compost. Just take care to ensure none of the composted materials have been treated with chemicals like herbicides. Some of those chemicals can still be active in the compost and can inhibit the growth of your garden, so it’s worth doing your research!
Prepping Soil in No-Till Gardens
If you prefer no-till methods, you’re not alone! Many soil scientists advocate no-till methods. Although no-till may seem harder at first, over time it can improve your soil quality and health and provide your garden with many benefits. It reduces soil erosion and builds the biodiversity of your soil, allowing the organisms living in your soil to do a lot of the hard work of loosening and enriching the soil.
To prepare your soil using a no-till approach, start by removing any weeds or debris from the planting area. Next, add a layer of compost or other organic matter to the top of the soil. This top dressing of soil will slowly filter into the soil over time and loosen the soil. A broadfork can also be used to loosen the soil more gently than tilling or completely disrupting the soil.
Although some of us are still dealing with some winter weather, it won’t be long until you’re sowing seeds and seedlings. Getting your soil ready will set the foundation for a healthy, thriving garden