Across the northern hemisphere, the last expected frost has either already passed or is quickly approaching. Click here for your last frost date. Wait until this date for much of your spring gardening. Meanwhile, there are several steps to prepping the garden.
1. Check Your Gardening Toolkit
Tools may have been lost or broken during the winter. Make sure you have a high-quality shovel, spade, hoe, rake and pair of pruners. Spring weather can be fickle, so don't waste a nice, warm gardening day with last-minute trips to the hardware store.
2. Test Your Soil
You first need to determine the alkalinity or acidity of your soil. Neutral soils more successfully retain some minerals. Though basic home pH test kits are available, a professional test is easier and more effective. Most Cooperative Extension offices offer soil testing for a small fee. Click here to find your nearest office. The office will send you a printout detailing your soil properties, and what additional nutrients may be needed to balance your soil and to create the ideal conditions for certain crops in your spring gardening.
3. Gather Your Soil Enhancers
Typically, the most important additive for your soil is decomposing animal or plant matter, such as compost, peat moss and well-rotted manure. You can make your own compost year-round with a hot compost bin or worm compost farm. Be warned that neither method may produce enough compost over the winter to enrich a large garden. Because I clean and freeze so many fresh vegetables in the late summer and fall, I don't end up with many vegetable scraps to feed my worms in the winter. Not to worry: plenty of good organic compost and other organic enhancements are available for purchase.
Also pick up organic fertilizers based on the recommendations in your soil test. For highly acidic soil, add lime. To balance out alkaline soils, add small amounts of pelleted sulfur.
4. Till the Soil
It is important to thoroughly till your garden plot to loosen soil, break up clumps and work in all your amendments. Till to at least 6 inches if you didn't do so last fall (which was the ideal time to enrich the soil for spring gardening, just so you know for this year).
5. Set up Drip Irrigation
Spending extra time to establish a drip irrigation system (hoses with small holes that leak water into the soil) pays off with easier watering throughout the summer, and less chance of the rot and diseases that can come with overhead watering.
6. Start Planting
The Farmers' Almanac has a detailed 2010 planting calendar for vegetable and flower gardens, based on lunar cycles. However, it must be adjusted based on your local frost-free date for ultimate spring gardening.
Broccoli, cabbage, spinach and other cool-weather vegetables are hardy enough for planting before the last frost. Plant new flowers and summer vegetables, such as beans, corn and cucumbers, after the last frost. Finally, wait until daytime temperatures are unlikely to dip below 55° Fahrenheit to plant peppers, tomatoes and other tender vegetables.
Start tinting those thumbs green with your spring gardening efforts. For both this article and my own humble gardening effort, I owe credit to the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension and the vast gardening knowledge of Barbara Damrosch.
Plan your garden early so that you can start planting at the first frost-free opportunity. Figure out what types of fertilizer you need to have on hand to keep your garden healthy, and determine the best way to water your yard for maximum efficiency.