Spring has arrived. The ground has thawed, the birds are back, and you’re ready to breathe life back into your garden. But that hard, dry soil isn’t going to nurture any new plant life. Proper soil preparation is essential to a productive growing season. Whether you are growing veggies to enjoy or flowers to beautify your property, well-prepared soil will ensure your gardening efforts don’t go unrewarded.
Start by getting rid of any stray weeds that may have sprouted since last fall or other debris that may have made it into your planting area. When weeding, be sure to pull plants out by their root, as any bit of the root left in the soil is likely to re-grow.
Test your soil for nutrient levels and pH balance. An electric soil tester is the easiest, most accurate way to do this. A pH level below 7.0 indicates acidic soil, while a level higher than 7.0 indicates higher alkalinity. Most plants grow best in a neutral pH environment. Some plants, however, such as astilbe, bleeding heart, foxglove, and rhododendrons thrive in particularly acidic soil. Evergreen shrubs and deciduous shrubs, on the other hand, thrive in more alkaline soil. Check the ideal pH level for the plants you intend to plant. You can purchase soil acid neutralizer if your acidity is higher than you’d like, or add limestone if you need to add acidity.
It is also important to remember that last year’s plants probably ate up a lot of the nutrients from your soil. Added nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium will help this year’s plants grow. A fertilizer with the “N-P-K” rating on the label will restore all these essentials. The best soil amendment, however, is organic matter. There are many good artificial soil amendments out there, but nothing beats Mother Nature in longevity, economy, and effectiveness. If you don’t already, consider composting to give some natural nutrients back to your garden.
Soil compaction occurs when the soil particles become too close together to allow water or nutrients to be absorbed. Tilling decompacts these particles and allows all the good things your plants need to be absorbed into the soil.
Till before adding your soil amendments (fertilizers, amendments to raise or lower acidity, or compost). The DR® line of Roto-Hog™ Power Tillers tow behind your ATV or tractor and make tilling as easy as a ride through your garden. They also allow you to make precise adjustments to the tilling depth from either a manual lever or remote controlled power actuator. In the spring, before you have planted, till to a depth of at least 7 inches. For smaller gardens, or for cleaning up in between rows during the growing season, check out the DR® Roto-Hog Mini Tiller. This little beast comes standard with electric starting and plenty of power!
After tilling, add your soil amendments. The uncompacted soil will be able to better mix with these materials. Read and follow package instructions for artificial soil amendments, and if you are using compost, spread a 1- to 4-inch thick layer over the top of your garden soil. If your compost is fully decomposed, it should be dark and earthy-smelling with few or no visible bits of materials that have not broken down. If your compost has not fully broken down — i.e. there are many visible bits of non-broken-down materials — it is still okay to use on your garden, but keep in mind that it will rob the soil of some of its nitrogen in order to continue to break down. Consider adding nitrogen to counter this effect, in the form of manure or an artificial nitrogen amendment.
Till your garden a second time after adding your amendments. This will mix them in and ensure that all those good things you’ve added get to your seeds and plant roots, where they’re needed most.
And now your soil is ready! Happy planting!