Spring is in the air and eager to take root in your garden. April is National Garden Month, an ideal time to learn about gardening in your area and get started no matter the shade of your green thumb. Springtime gardening can keep you guessing because of fluctuating weather and soil temperatures, so we’ve checked with a number of experts to bring you these gardening pointers.
- Do your spring cleaning. While many gardeners prefer to start seedlings indoors six to eight weeks before planting, now is the time, for many areas of the country, to get your seeds and seedlings in the ground. But first, you need to clear out the planting area. Remove weeds and any damaged or dead plants, branches and sod. Check raised beds, steps and pathways for any disrepair from winter freezing and thawing.
- Prepare the soil. Check the pH of your soil with a home soil-test kit available through gardening centers. Take several samples throughout your gardening plot and amend the soil as necessary. Dolomitic lime will raise pH levels and elemental sulfur will lower pH. Check the soil temperature using a garden shop thermometer or even a regular thermometer that measures to 32°F. Use a spading fork to work a 4-inch layer of compost or manure or other amendments into the soil. You might also want to add some fertilizer to revitalize the soil after the harsh months of winter.
- Follow seed-planting instructions. You can determine the optimum planting time of plants by checking dates on gardening seed packets or researching the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) plant hardiness zone map online. Be sure to plant measuring the proper depth and space between plants. When planting, keep the soil mix moist but not too wet.
- Protect seedlings from the cold. Spring gardens are susceptible to late snows and frosts. If temperatures are predicted near freezing (32°F) or below, cover seedlings with light tarps, overturned buckets or flower pots, or layers of newspaper or cardboard boxes secured with a weight. Be patient. You may need to repeat this covering process several nights.
- Keep the pests away. Be sure to add mulch around your plants to discourage weeds and disease. To make your own safe insecticidal soap, add five tablespoons of a vegetable oil-based or all-natural liquid soap (e.g., Castile soap) to a gallon of water. Do not use dish detergents or degreaser products. Spray both sides of the plant leaves when they are still dew-covered in the morning or spray after sunset so the soap doesn’t dry before it can work.
Best Spring Vegetables and Herbs
Hardy cool-season veggies such as potatoes, onions, artichokes and some lettuces can be planted in early spring. Cool-season plants typically flourish in temperatures lower than 70°F and when the air and soil temperatures are at least 40°F. Mid-spring is the time to plant the rest of your vegetables and herbs. After the last frost when nighttime temperatures stay above 50°F, you can plant warm-season vegetables such as corn, cucumbers, beans, eggplant, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.
What do you enjoy most about spring gardening?
About the Author
An award-winning journalist who has documented stories in nearly 20 countries, Beth Lueders is an author, writer and speaker who frequently reports on diverse topics, including aging and health issues for both U.S. and international corporations.