Spring, like true love, is always sweeter for the long wait, and it has arrived. Though freeze dates are still on the horizon, the home gardener can get outside and begin preparing the ground for seeds and seedlings, flowers, fruits and vegetables. Turning and tilling the soil is a good first step for aerating what’s been compacted over winter and adding compost. What you are planting will dictate how deep you dig and turn.
You can rent a tiller, share a tiller with a neighbor, buy one or simply work the ground with a hand tool, getting a little dirt under your fingernails, noting details about your soil and the ground, removing weeds and foreign materials and enjoying an earthy experience and time outside. Direct sun and adequate drainage are imperative for your garden site, and this is a perfect time to add wire or fencing for climbing plants.
For optimum growth with proper nutrition, plants need nearly two dozen nutrients in the soil, most of which are easy to add. Among the natural fertilizers are:
- horse manure (composted from last fall, if possible)
- rabbit droppings (dried and composted)
- wood ash (avoid ash from painted or treated wood)
- grass clippings (composted with coffee grounds or crushed eggshells)
Serious gardeners often take soil samples to their local extension offices for pH testing and advice. As your garden grows, it absorbs nutrients in the soil, leaving it less fertile than when you poked those seeds into it. Fertilizing it last fall or early in the spring replenishes nutrients, giving plants an excellent foundation in which to thrive. Three of the main nutrients – carbon, hydrogen and oxygen – come naturally from air and water.
Three other major nutrients are:
- Nitrogen (N), good for forming new tissues
- Phosphorus (P), stimulates roots, buds, flowers
- Potassium (K), improves performance and reduces disease.
Store-bought fertilizers have numbers on the package referring to N, P and K in order. A basic 5-5-5 fertilizer, for example, should provide what your plants need for a healthy, productive season. Prepping the soil, adding compost and fertilizer will improve your soil’s composition and yield better produce and beautiful flower blossoms. Spread a high quality top soil at least a few days before you plant, and you’ll have the best chance of great success for luscious fruits, healthy vegetables and beautiful flowers.
By Joanne M. Anderson
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