Preparing your garden for spring

The urge to garden becomes stronger with each day the late-winter sun rises higher in the sky.  Gardeners love reconnecting with the earth and waking up their garden to a new growing season.  Since it is never good to begin working the soil too early, there are projects that gardeners can do in early spring to fulfil their urge to begin their gardening season.  While completing tasks like clearing drainage ditches, repairing garden fixtures, organising and sharpening garden tools and weeding young spring weeds is necessary for early spring garden preparation, gardeners really want to get their hands in the soil.  The preparation of the soil is one of the most important tasks of spring garden preparation.  However, working soil too early is truly a mistake and experienced gardeners fully understand.  Plant roots thrive in soil that is well aerated, having air spaces between the soil particles.  When melting snow or spring rains have the soil saturated it can be easily compacted just by treading across it.  Furthermore, if this saturated soil is turned over in clumps (since it is compacted) it will end up just baking and resulting in lumps of soil that are practically impervious and difficult to break up at a later date.  The wet soil is heavy and will not break up into a texture that is loose and air retaining.  Therefore, it is important to know when the soil is ready to be worked for early spring garden preparation.

Figuring out whether the garden soil has dried out enough to be worked is not a difficult task.  Gardeners have traditionally felt the soil to tell if it is ready.  It is as easy as picking up a bit of soil, about half of a cup, in your hand.  Form a ball by squeezing the soil together.  The soil is ready for working if the ball can be shattered readily by pressing it with your fingers.  Another test to know whether the soil is ready is to drop the ball of soil from a height of about three feet.  If it shatters, the garden is ready to be worked.  However, if the ball keeps its shape or does break, but with great difficulty and into larger sections, the soil is not ready; the soil is still too moist.  Working soil that is still too wet can completely ruin its texture for the entire gardening season.  Once the soil passes the texture test, it is time to continue with the garden preparation.

Top Dress Beds  
Use well-seasoned manure or compost to top dress the beds in preparation for planting.  Try not to dig the beds because they already have a complex soil ecosystem.  It is typically better to leave this ecosystem undisturbed.  The nutrients from the compost added to the top will work into the soil.

Plant Early Spring Vegetables  
The vegetables that thrive in the cooler temperatures of spring are lettuces, leeks, peas, and spinach.  Use successive plantings that produce different maturation dates to create a prolonged harvest.  This way there will always be vegetables to harvest.  These early spring crops can then be followed by plantings of broccoli, cabbage, kale, radishes, turnips, onions, and new potatoes.  If you live in an area where freezing temperatures tend to linger on it is important to mulch early bulbs.

Protect Seedlings
If a hard frost is upon you, early spring plantings can be vulnerable.  It is simple to avoid damage to the plants by covering the seedlings overnight.  Coverings can include cardboard, an overturned bucket, a cold frame, or even a large flowerpot.  If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse, seedlings can be started early without the threat of inconsistent early spring weather.

Plant Bulbs 
For bulbs that were forced in bowls or pots indoors, early spring is the time to set them out.  It may take two or three years for these bulbs to support flowering, but some of them may also bloom the following spring.

Divide Perennials  
The best and easiest time to divide perennials is when the emerging shoots are only about two to four inches tall.  Make sure the new beds are prepared with a six-inch layer of organic matter spread over and worked in deeply.  The organic matter can be rotted manure, compost, or peat moss.  Plants are less likely to suffer from any summer drought when they are growing in deep, rich soil.  The existing beds of perennials can then be cleared of any old debris.  They should also be mulched to prevent growth of weeds.  Make sure the mulch is not applied over any sprouting root mass, but rather around each plant.

Now is the time to stake any perennials that are sprouting, like asparagus.  Plants like this may need support as they grow tall and may be exposed to wind.  Avoid disturbing the root mass of the emerging shoots with these stakes.

Shrubs and trees are a part of the garden as well; spring garden preparation should include attention to these plants.  Spring preparation of shrubs and trees will involve pruning out dead or damaged branches, pruning fruit trees, removing stakes or relaxing wires that are installed on trees planted the previous fall, transplanting existing shrubs that may need moving prior to leafing out, and applying horticultural oil sprays to apple and pear trees and oil to ornamental trees and shrubs.