Food-producing green roof on the University of the District of Columbia campus.
The harsh winter chill is disappearing and warmer spring temperatures are on the horizon. Now is the perfect time to get your garden into tip-top shape for planting. Here are 10 tips to get your garden off to a great start.
1. Make a plan.
In order to prepare, you must first decide what to plant. There are many choices to make. Will you use established plants or seeds? How will you map out your garden? Regardless of what varieties you choose, one thing you may want to consider is pollinator-friendly plants. Selecting plants with flower colors bees like, such as yellow, blue or purple, will make your garden more appealing for bees. The Pollinator Partnership has a Bee Smart mobile app that helps gardeners select the best plants in their area that attract bees.
2. Observe the current state of your garden.
Take a walk through your garden and review how well last year’s planting choices worked out. Things to consider: placement of compatible plants, sunlight, shade and irrigation methods. Making the right adjustments will improve your garden this year.
3. Tidy up.
Before you put anything new in the ground, clean out any old plants or flowers from last year’s garden. Pull up pesky grass and weeds, making sure to remove the roots so they don’t return. If you installed winter mulch or pine straw, now is the time to remove it. Grab a rake and get busy.
4. Survey the soil.
Quite possibly the most important step in garden prep is cultivating the soil. Soil inspection is key because your soil provides nutrients that plants need to grow. One way to make sure your soil contains the right nutrients is by using a soil sampling kit. You can usually find these kits at your local home and garden center. This soil analysis will inform your decisions on fertilizing methods. Also, be sure to aerate your soil by breaking it up to allow air, water and nutrients to penetrate the plant roots. Be sure to throw out any rocks you find in the process.
5. Take care of pests.
While working your soil you probably found a few uninvited garden pests. Now is the best time to get rid of them and prevent future garden infestations. Also, be sure to check any perennials for slugs, snails or aphids, treating any infestations you find. And as always, make sure to read and follow label directions for any product you’re using.
6. If it’s broken, fix it!
To ensure that your time this spring is spent taking care of your garden, its best to fix broken structures and gardening tools now. Also, treating your wood with a preservative during dry periods can prevent cracks and splitting.
So, mend that fence, paint that pergola and pat yourself on the back because you are well on your way to a great garden.
7. Gather the tools you need, and make sure they’re clean!
Sharpen and clean your tools to improve their performance this spring. Proper tool maintenance will save you money and prevent the spread of disease transmission between cuttings. Clean and sharpen anything with an edge and inspect your other equipment to make sure it’s in proper working order.
8. Planting vegetables? Consider raised beds.
Raised beds are ideal for growing vegetables because they warm quickly in the spring, encourage good irrigation and aeration and are ideal for difficult soil. Raised beds are also easier to maintain because you'll be able to reach every corner of your bed to pull young weeds as they appear, making weeding and cultivating easier with less bending and stooping. Your back will thank you.
9. Prepare a compost pile.
Save money by creating your own plant food or compost area in your garden. Buy or make a compost bin and throw in all your garden waste, such as grass clippings, paper, wood pruning and fruit and veggie peelings. Help it along by turning and aerating it with a garden fork once a month. Your plants will benefit from the rich compost created when it all breaks down.
10. Label your plants.
If you are growing food, learning to identify plants or sharing a community garden, plant markers are a must. You can use the plastic markers that came with the plants (if you purchased them), buy or make your own by re-using everyday materials like pebbles, bamboo skewers and even broken terracotta pots. Before you head outside, grab a marker or paint brush and label your plant markers with the variety name and date you planted it.
Below are more resources to help you prepare your garden for the spring ahead. Happy planting!