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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Garden Preparation Plan for Spring

Spring will be here before you now it.  Which means all that fun garden time for us gardeners.  In order to maximize the productivity of your garden and minimize the maintenance required we need a plan.  We need a spring preparation garden plan.  We need a plan of attack to get all those chores done, all those projects mapped out, and all those plants growing right.  Gardening doesn't start on March 20th...it starts now!  Or maybe even yesterday!  A good plan will do two things for you: get your season off to a great start and give you that gardening fix to get you excited about the season!
spring time garden flowers

Where should you start with your plan?  First keep in mind there are tasks that can be completed periodically over the course of the next several weeks and there are those that have to be done at a certain time. The time sensitive events are mostly seed starting dates if you are a seed starting gardener.  This week I'll put together two lists that reflect both of these types of tasks that need to be in your plan.  Below you will find the Spring Preparation Garden Plan and later in the week I'll share a list for seed starting dates.


The Garden Preparation Plan for Spring


There are three main jobs that need done each and every year.  Cleaning up the garden, amending the garden, and planting the garden.  The planting is the most fun part but can be a wasted effort if the other two tasks aren't take care of first!


Clean Up The Garden


On warmer weather days get out to the garden and clean it up. Remove dead stems, branches, and plants and toss the non diseased debris in the compost bin.  While cleaning up the garden take note of anything that has changed over the winter.

  • Clean up plants that may have died, large sticks and branches that may have fallen out of trees, and other debris.  
  • Sheds and outbuildings should be inspected for damage from winter storms.  Take note of those things and add it to the to-do list.  
  • Fix and repair and raised beds that need repaired.
  • Inspect hoses, nozzles, and garden equipment for damage and plan out new purchases accordingly.
  • Clean up and sharpen tools.
  • Lawn mower repair shops tend to have more time now to repair things so get your mowers, weed eaters, chainsaws, and trimmers to the shop now if needed. If you wait until things start actively growing everyone in town will have their machine in the shop!



Amend the Garden Soil


Use compost!
  • Amend your soil with a good, rich, finished compost!  Compost is a great amendment to the garden since it improves the soil structure and helps your plants grow healthy and strong. 
  •  For trees be sure to rake it out past the drip line since the roots extend beyond the edge of the trees branches.  That will encourage your trees to grow larger root systems and become more drought tolerant in the long run.  
  • For other beds spread compost and work it into the top 2 inches of soil.  It will trickle down into layers below to enrich your plantings.  

Fertilize
  • If you use fertilizers other than compost be sure to follow the manufacturers instructions.  There are three numbers on each fertilizer package which stand for Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium.   Foliage plants benefit from the nitrogen while fruits are better served with the Phosphorus and Potassium.  All plants need all three elements but if your goal is to have your plants produce fruits or vegetables you don't want a high nitrogen fertilizer that is going to create 15 foot tall tomato plants with no tomatoes!  Match the right fertilizer with the right plant.  Organic fertilizers are usually very well balanced which is one reason why I like prefer them over artificially made fertilizers.  

Mulch
    mulch
  • I also consider mulching as a part of amending the soil.  A layer of organic mulch protects the soil from erosion, breaks down and feeds the soil, retains moisture in the ground where the plants need it, and looks pretty spiffy!  
  • What's a good mulch?  Hardwood, bark, leaves, straw, grass clippings, and pine needles are just some of many options.  The aesthetics vary so choose what will suit your garden and your plants the best! 


tulips in spring


Plant the Garden


Planting is the third aspect of this plan.
    sugar snap pea seedlings
  • Plants are still dormant in our area (mostly) and there is still time to get in bare root plants.  Bareroot is a great way to establish fruit trees since prices tend to be cheaper than potted plants at the nursery.  Most likely you'll have to order bareroot trees from a catalog but you can get a wide variety of fruit trees. 
  • Build any raised beds you want to add to the garden now while things are dormant.  When the time is right for planting your vegetables it will be ready and prepared for planting!
  • Spring blooming bulbs will be able to be found in the stores very soon.  Buying them in pots is a great way to get instant impact but you can save money by planting bulbs in the fall.
  • Vegetables can start to be planted anytime here in Tennessee but not every kind of vegetable. The first thing we plant is the sugar snap peas.  Those delicious podded peas almost never make into our house from the garden!  Leafy greens can also be started very soon if not already.  Spinach, kale, and chard tend to be more hardy than lettuce so plant those first and the lettuce a couple weeks after.  
  • You will also need to plan your summer vegetable's start time.  The number of weeks on the package of seeds may or may not be a good indicator of timing.  I take that number then add about 2 weeks to it to get a good start date for my plants.  
  • Be cautious about buying early plants from the stores.  Tomatoes and peppers DO NOT need to be planted outdoors before the safe frost date in your area.  You'll see them in the stores very early, they will call to you and say "Buy me now!  I want to be in your garden!"  and you'll have to say "I want you, but no, not yet."  Planting too early can lead to fungal diseases that will last throughout the season or DBF - Death By Frost.  Nope, that isn't a poem! Covering plants each and every night is not a fun job but becomes necessary if you plant too early.
Raised bed from retaining wall blocks

As you can see there is a lot to do to prepare the garden for spring. Don't get overwhelmed!  Do these tasks bit by bit, a couple each week before spring and your garden will come together nicely!  

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