Spring is just around the corner, and most gardeners already have a mile-long wish list of plants and seed packets for the new growing season. Frost-free garden days may still be weeks away for many, but early March is an ideal time to prepare your garden for spring planting. Here’s our step-by-step guide:
Get the Timing Just Right
There is nothing quite like getting out on a warm late-winter day and working the soil in anticipation of spring, but prepping soil too early is a mistake. Good soil prep requires good timing. How soon is too soon? When the soil is still cold and soggy from melting winter snows, contains ice crystals beneath the surface, and clumps together—it’s too early. Planting-ready soil will crumble easily.
Test your Soil and Amend if Needed
Spending lots of time on soil prep won’t amount to much if the pH is too low or too high. Before using compost, mulch or fertilizers, test your soil with simple home pH test. The ideal soil pH for most plants is a nice balanced neutral: 6.5-7 is a good bet. Neutral pH not only allows roots to absorb nutrients properly, it is also necessary for healthy microbial activity. If your soil is too acidic or too alkaline, you’ll need to amend it:
- To amend alkaline soil: add sulfur, iron or aluminum sulfate
- To amend acidic soil: add lime (dolomite is best)
Top Dress the Soil
Once the soil is dry enough, many gardeners prefer to “top dress” their garden beds. Top dressing is easy, all you do is add a layer of compost, composted manure or top soil onto your existing soil. If your garden is already well-established, this is the easiest soil preparation method, and often the best. Digging up soil can damage the delicate ecosystem already in place. With the spring rains, the nutrients in the top dressing will simply seep down into the ground.
Add Organic Fertilizer
All plant fertilizer is based on the three main nutrients (a.k.a. “macro-nutrients) that plants need to survive:
- (N) Nitrogen
- (P) Phosphorous
- (K) Potassium
In early spring, prepare your garden soil with a quality organic fertilizer that contains more Nitrogen and Potassium, and less Phosphorous (which you’ll want to add later in the season). Synthetic fertilizers tend to contain more nutrients than a plant needs and may disrupt the soil ecosystem, and so are best avoided. A quality fertilizer should also contain healthy amounts of “micro-nutrients” too, like manganese, zinc and copper.
You simply can’t go wrong with a high-quality mulch any time of the year, but it is especially important in early spring. The added layer will protect tender new plant growth from late spring frost, and can even help increase your growing season by an extra week or two.
Other Soil Amendments
Sometimes, you’ll want to prepare your garden soil for spring with a little extra TLC. These simple amendments can help:
- Compost: A good idea, even for healthy soil. It gives a nice, natural nutrient boost
- Peat moss: Helps soil retain water
- Shredded Bark: Improves dense soil structure
- Sand: Loosens up hard clay soil and improves drainage
- Topsoil: Existing healthy soil. Ideal for adding more soil to containers and garden beds