Get Your Garden Ready For Spring!

It's finally spring and you may be wondering what to do with the bleak, brown space called a yard. Beautifying your yard can not only be satisfying, but well-placed shrubs, trees, flowering plants and an attractive lawn can increase your property's value.

Avid gardeners may already have been out with their hoes, planting seeds that can handle a nip of frost. Fresh greens such as lettuce, chard and spinach are plants worth taking a gamble on. But now that the long weekend has passed, you can go ahead with your planting without much risk to your garden.

To start, though, you have several things you need to get out of the way.

Begin by taking a reality check. Did you clean up, cut down, rake leaves, compost and generally tidy things up before the first snow? If not, you'll have to do it now.

Even if you didn't spend hours this past winter planning your garden on paper and ordering plants and seeds, there's still time to do all the research needed to make it a success. Go to your local library or book store and pick up some books and magazines to help you visualize what you want.

Think of your yard as a cluster of "outdoor rooms": some for enjoying sunshine, others for growing vegetables and others for appreciating the beauty of flowers, shrubs, trees and foliage plants.

Flower and vegetable beds need a lot of thought and planning, especially if you want continual colour or growth from spring through fall. You may have to plant more than one kind of annual or vegetable in a particular location to accomplish this.

You'll also have to consider other factors such as sun, shade, heat, reflected light, winds and soil conditions.

Garden centres and nurseries get mobbed in spring, so be prepared before you get there. Start a shopping list of the seeds, bedding plants and shrubs you are going to need to get your yard in gear.

When to start

Because spring weather is so variable, it's often difficult to know when the soil is ready to receive seeds and transplants. A good rule of thumb is to check other outdoor plants for clues. When spring bulbs and crocuses come into bloom, the soil is usually warm enough to start digging. The ground should also be thawed enough to divide and more perennial flowers and herbs, plant shrubs and trees and to start rejuvenating your lawn. It's also a good time to prune back bushes and trees and begin insect management strategies. However, much still depends on the weather and how dry the soil is.

Understanding and improving your soil

Flowering plants and vegetable gardens required good soil drainage. How well your garden soil drains depends on its composition. Clay soils tend to drain slowly while sandy ones drain rapidly. Both can be improved with the addition of large quantities of organic matter such as peat moss, compost and leaf mould.

In addition to its physical makeup, soil can also be classified as acid, alkaline or neutral. This is also referred to as its pH content. High acidity or high alkalinity can be harmful to plants. Materials such as lime can be added to decrease soil acidity. Soil or peat moss is added to decrease soil alkalinity.

To test the pH of your soil, you can purchase a do-it-yourself kit or send a sample to a laboratory that will test the soil for you. Even if your soil turns out to be infertile, stony or poorly drained, you can still grow flowers and vegetables. Just build framed, raised beds and fill them with enriched soil.

Get digging

Digging an established garden is fairly easy as long as the soil is the right consistency. To determine if your soil is dry enough to work, squeeze a handful into a ball and drop it from shoulder height. If it shatters, the soil is dry enough. If the soil is too dry to form a ball, moisten it before digging.

As a general rule, garden soil should consist of about one-third organic matter. Apply three to six inches of peat moss or other organic material over the existing soil. Then till or spade all materials thoroughly to a depth of eight to 12 inches. You can single dig or double dig. Double digging is more work - you dig a trench in the soil to the depth of your spade, then dig down further with a garden fork to loosen the soil below. Plants with deep root systems respond better to double dug soil.

Prepare the soil a couple of weeks before you plan to start planting. Leave the prepared soil beds idle for about 10 days to allow any weeds time to germinate. Remove weeds before sowing or transplanting the area.

Time to plant

If you are planting seeds directly outdoors, make sure you don't place them too deep in the soil. Many seeds need exposure to light to germinate. If the plants don't tolerate frost well at the seedling state, ensure that all danger of frost has passed.

Plants grown indoors may go into shock if not hardened property before being transported to the garden. This process takes about 10 days. Start by putting the plants outdoors for an hour or two during the hottest part of the day and gradually increase their exposure. Water transplants before you plant them and once or twice every day.

Bedding plants can be purchased at garden centres or nurseries should already be hardened. Always look for stocky, compact plants that have a healthy green colour. Avoid tall, lanky specimens that have yellow leaves and appear to be stretched. These are already in stress. Never judge a plant by its height. Quality transplants are short with thick stems and have side branches close to the base.

Taking care to get the right plants and planting them properly will give you a garden space you can enjoy well into the fall. So happy gardening!



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