The Charmed Garden

From Planning to Planting, and from Harvest to Table.

Soil Preparation Tips

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Hello Everyone

Right about now most of us are gearing up to prep our gardens for planting. Whether its a veggie, herb, or perennial garden (or all three together in a beautiful design), you need to “make the bed” before any of your plants can get in it. This means prep the soil. I am often asked why a garden bed hasn’t thrived even though the gardener has made sure the plants are fed and watered, etc.  The answer more often than not is that the soil itself needs the TLC. If you haven’t already amended your soil, now is the time. So here are a few basic, but very important, things to do before planting.

Add Peat Moss

Adding peat moss is a time-proven method of binding sandy soil or breaking up clay soil.  Clay soil literally acts like a clay pot, holding water which eventually breaks down the root and kills the plants. Peat moss breaks up the clay soil so that the water drains properly. Peat moss also binds thin, sandy soil so that it will hold the water, and the soil nutrients. You need not add it every year. Once and done, whether its a raised bed or a traditional garden bed.

Where to Add Peat Moss

If you are planting a new perennial garden bed and removing lawn to do it, add it to the garden soil you purchase from your garden center. Often times the helper at the garden center will tell you that it’s not needed because the garden soil has sand or gravel already added to it. Trust me, add it! You’ll thank me later.

If you are just planting a few bushes, or trees and not preparing an entire bed, just add a couple of shovels of the peat moss directly into the hole you just dug. If the soil is thick with clay, first break up the clay in the hole with your shovel and then add the peat moss. Then fill the hole with water and let your bush, tree, etc. sit in the mixture before filling the hole back up.

Add Compost

The next step for your veggie or herb garden bed is to add any compost you’ve created over the winter, or mushroom compost or worm castings (yep – its worm poop).  Over time the living material in your beds, seen and unseen, will create the perfect environment for all plants. You will find the healthier your soil the less fertilizer and pesticides you will need. This is because your plants will be healthier and therefore resistant to disease.

How to Add Compost

Do not till or turn over the beds. Just gently rake in the good stuff. If you till each year, you risk compacting the soil and cooling off the microbes and good bugs who are nice and warm in their homes. Your plants need these microbes and bugs. The bugs will loosen the soil and add nutrients which the microbes thrive on.  The microbes work to help your plants absorb the nutrients.

If just thinking of adding the compost to the whole bed makes your muscles sore, then you can add a bit of compost in the row you’ve created for the seeds or seedlings. I add it to the whole bed because I layer my plants throughout the season, so I prefer the one and done method. But I also have teenage boys who will do the dirty work for me for a few bucks, or anything from the kitchen.

Lay Mulch

After you’ve prepared your soil and planted your seeds or seedlings, flowers, bushes and trees, you need to lay mulch. Mulch helps to keep  the temperature of your beds even – not too hot to kill the seedlings but warm enough to germinate the seeds. Mulch also keeps the beds moist on a hot day, and keeps your plants from floating away in the spring rains.

 Choosing mulch

The texture of the mulch should vary with the size of your plants. The more tender the plant (seeds, seedlings) the finer the mulch. Some gardeners use grass clippings on their veggie garden beds to add nutrients and as a seriously cheap mulch. But, if you have allergies or don’t like the smell of decomposing grass clippings, I’d steer clear of this method. We are so close to our neighbor’s yards that I’d lose a friend if I used this method.

Now You’re Ready to Plant!

Many of us can start planting now. Use the list below in my previous blog to see who can start what where. If you start early you can layer your plants so that early stuff is ready to harvest when the seedlings that like it hot are ready to go in.  Remember to keep the short stuff (radishes and some salads and herbs) in the front and the tall stuff in the back. Keeping your bed full will actually limit your weeding time!!

Here’s a few photos for inspiration. Enjoy! And,as always, send any Q’s you have this way.

photo (51) 2015-07-02 01.00.32
Before and after pics of my veggie garden behind my garage.

Over the next few days I will post design combinations for perennial gardens in the R & J tab for those of you who want to knock adding to or creating new garden beds in your yards this year off your “to do” list. Until then, happy planting. Enjoy the sun wherever it may be for you.

Author: Laurine M. Byrne

I received my certification as a Landscape Designer from Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois and I received my horticulture education through classes at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois and through the master gardener program at Univ of Illinois Extension. In my designs, I love mixing veggies and herbs with native perennials and flowering bushes as you can see from the pictures of my own yard. I love creating gardens for people who like to garden, not just installing traditional landscaping, but actually creating gardens that the homeowner connects to personally. I love that my clients who thought they couldn't grow anything now have green thumbs, because all it takes is the right plant in the right site. And I really love that my clients become my friends in the process of creating their gardens.

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