Planning and Preparation
There are some things that you should do at the end of this year’s garden in order to have an even better one next year. Be creative and plan ahead.
Give some thought to the size and location of your garden sites. Whatever your choices are, it’s wise to make them ahead of time. Plan for paths where you want to walk. Consider the type of plants you want, the conditions under which they thrive, and place your beds where the best combination of light, shade, moisture and drainage prevails. Choose the right plant for each location.
The density and time of shade cast by each object in your garden should be considered when you plan your plantings.
Deciduous trees are most versatile, permitting plenty of light during the cool weather of early spring and fall, and providing mottled shade in summer.
Evergreen trees and shrubs will provide year-round shade, its density depending on the branching habit of the evergreen in question.
Low walls and evergreen hedges provide a pattern of part-day shade and part-day sun, except to the south side where sun falls all day.
Buildings and high walls are opaque to light, providing dense shade to the north and very hot, bright conditions to the south. A building may provide protection for tender plants in winter.
Remember the sun rises about 30 degrees higher in summer than in winter. Observe how light falls in your yard over the course of a year, and plan your garden area to use this to advantage in each season.
Identify the average dates of Seasonal Benchmarks in your area, such as the last spring frost and the first fall frost. They are important to know so you can garden successfully. See Seasonal Benchmarks chart below.
|Early Spring: Soil temperature is cool, but past the last hard freeze or heavy frost. May still have light frost.|
|Late Spring: Soil has begun to warm, and danger of frost is past.|
|Early Summer: Soil temperature and night temperatures have warmed.|
|Late Summer: Soil and night temperatures have begun to cool, but still before first frost.|
|Fall: Soil temperature has cooled and light frosts occur, but before first hard freeze or heavy frost. Ground is not frozen.|
|Winter: Soil temperature is very cold or soil is actually frozen. Hard freezes and heavy frosts; soil may freeze.|
It may be helpful to use a planning paper like the example given below: (Example: Lexington, Va.)
|Transplant Date in My Area:||No. Weeks from sowing to garden size transplants:||Date to Sow:|
|Ageratum||Early Summer||May 1 - 15||6 to 8||March 15|
Soil Soaker hoses or trickle irrigation dispense water to your plants most effectively and conserve water. Place your beds where a garden hose can reach from the faucet.
Have them on hand when preparing beds and planting. When preparing beds: spade, spading fork and garden rake. When planting garden: rake, planting tool (trowel or short-handled hoe). For maintenance: a garden cart, hoe and pitchfork are handy.
Good soil grows healthy plants! You should prepare your soil well ahead of planting time to provide the right texture and nutrition. We’ve had our best success preparing beds in fall, right after summer’s garden is finished and when cool, dry weather prevails.
Roots like a soil that is spongy enough to hold moisture, but porous enough to provide air spaces and good drainage. The best way to give a soil this texture is by adding well-rotted organic material, as often as is practical. Good organics include peat moss, well-rotted manure and compost. Spread the organic material over your entire garden to a depth of several inches and mix it into your soil as deeply and thoroughly as you can.
If your soil still seems heavy and forms sticky lumps when wet or hard clods when dry, mix in up to 2 inches of coarse sand as well as the organic material. Soils that are sandy and drain too quickly can be made more productive through liberal additions of organic material.
After preparing your bed, cover with a deep mulch over winter to protect the soil texture and hold down spring weeds. With a raised bed prepared this way, we’re often able to plant straight into it in spring with no further tilling; just rake mulch off and plant.
Plant growth is highly responsive to proper soil reaction (ph) and to ample supplies of nutrients, particularly Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K). Send samples of your soil to your local County Agricultural Extension Agent; for a very modest fee you will get excellent advice as to how to amend your soil for maximum productivity of the plants you want to grow. Lime sweetens soil if it is too acid, increasing the availability of nutrients. Sulphur reduces excess alkalinity. Fertilizer hastens and promotes growth. All should be used carefully, according to directions.
You can make inexpensive, easy compost at home from leaves, grass clippings, garden wastes such as stalks and weeds, and vegetable leftovers (never meat!). Pile these together until well rotted. Use a compost tool to aerate the pile. You can enclose the pile with wire or with a ready-made compost bin. Keep adding organics until the size of the pile suits you, then start another one. Keep the pile moist but not soaking. The pile is usually ready in about 6 months, or faster in warm weather. You’ll know it’s ready for the garden when its contents are dark and crumbly and look like woods soil.
Our Customer Service Department will send you more information about composting on request.
Green Manure Crops
Cover crops, turned back into the soil, are another means of adding organic matter, and thus improving soil texture. Also, as they decompose, they release nutrients. Fall-sown crops such as annual Ryegrass can be grown over winter and dug into the soil in early spring. Do this at least four weeks prior to garden planting.
Other good winter cover crops include some legumes such as Winter Vetch, Crimson Clover and Austrian Winter Peas. Legumes have the advantage of adding more nitrogen to the soil. Be sure to till 8 weeks ahead of growing season so nitrogen is released, not tied up in the process of decomposing the cover crop.
Proper digging, or tilling, mixes in organic matter and helps to develop a deep, loose, mellow environment for plant roots. Small gardens can be turned with a spade or spading fork; a rototiller will greatly aid in preparing a larger garden. To be worked, a handful of soil should crumble when squeezed. Dig soil to a minimum of 6-8 inches deep. Initial “double-digging”, to 16 inches, is the ideal way to prepare a good garden... it breaks up compacted soil even below the reach of tiller tines and mixes subsoil and topsoil.
Raised beds make gardening easier! As you build up your soil by adding compost, the bed’s surface will rise above ground level. Surround such a bed with some material to hold the soil in place — you’ll have a raised bed. Common edging materials include: timbers, blocks, bricks, boards and rocks. Raising a bed makes soil deeper. It looks neat. And the edging keeps lawn grass and other weeds from invading the bed. Better drainage permits earlier planting in spring.