Guide written by:
John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge
Each year, gardeners everywhere look forward with to the first sunny days of the year marking the start of the best gardening months. From working the soil to composting and fertilising, sowing your seeds and planting your vegetables requires a lot of preparation. Read on for our top tips on how to prepare for spring.
- Preparing the soil
- Hand and power tools
When to prepare the soil
In autumn and at the start of spring, you will have to think about preparing the soil for the upcoming season.
Preparing the soil in a vegetable garden or patch is especially important
Especially in the vegetable garden, the preparation of the soil is crucial as it results in a fine,looseearth, that surrounds the seeds in a consistent way. This is favorable to the seed's successful germination and strong roots.
Working the soil during periods of frost is not recommended. It's better to wait for the soil to be properly drained, or that the excess water has evacuated due to gravity. A slightly dryer surface soil will be easier to work.
In the spring, when the soil is slowly heating up, biological activity re-emerges and weeds start to grow. It's important to remove them before they get too big.
To eliminate weeds without chemicals, there's only one proven method: the manual one, using a tool like the weeder, hoe, or for highly motivated people, by rolling up one's sleeves and removing them by hand.
Preparing the soil before sowing or planting itself consists of using a certain number of tools in order to obtain a very fine surface soil (the finer the better, as the seeds are small) and free of weeds. When transplanting plants, the standards can be lowered a bit, although the soil must be loose to promote proper rooting.
What tools should I use to prepare the soil?
The first step in soil preparation is traditionally ploughing or tilling the soil. To accomplish this, one can use a spade or a garden fork. Another tool, one that has become very popular recently, is the fork hoe, equipped with two prongs. It is also referred to as a cantebury or double headed fork, or even a biofork, and has the distinct advantage of not only saving time and energy, but also avoiding upsetting the layers of the soil. It therefore better respects all the underground microfauna.
The next range of tools are useful for breaking up mounds, like the claw weeder or garden fork. They are similar to a typical muck fork except they have curved teeth, allowing for the removal of roots and pebbles at the same time. During this phase, fertilizer or compost can already be incorporated, so it will sit a few centimeters deep.
Last but not least, the rake is the finishing tool used to achieve an even finer soil, level its surface of the soil and remove any remaining weeds, big clumps or pebbles. Once prepared in this way, a surface is referred to as a "seedbed". This last step is not always essential, especially for crops (potatoes, cabbage plants, tomatoes ...).
For compact areas, it's best to avoid tillers or other rotating devices and stick to manual tools. The tiller, all things considered, has a number of disadvantages: it actually splits the plants' roots, some of which can become even more invasive, like quackgrass and bindweed. It also disturbs the different layers of the soil, and kills whole regiments of worms.
What to do with the mulch?
If you had the good idea to preserve the soil in mulch during the fall, you have already probably skipped the digging/ploughing step.
Now is the time to remove the mulch, or rather what remains of it after nature's small hands (fauna and micro-organisms) have broken it down. Add it to your compost pile: everything can be re-used. Once laid bare, the soil will warm up faster from direct contact with the sun's rays. You can slightly loosen the soil with a garden hook, as it will remove any dry weeds and sproutlings that have started to grow under the mulch.
Fertiliser le sol
Spring is the right time to add compost, as it be can incorporated in the first 10 centimeters by simply removing the first layer of soil with a garden fork. The compost should however be ripe, and free of worms. Worms are a sign that the compost is still maturing. You can also add dehydrated manure (powder or granules) or a fertilizer, as long as it is safe for the plants.
After using a green fertilizer
If you have used a green manure in autumn (rye, crimson clover etc.) then March or April is the time to grind it up, using a lawnmower equipped with a mulching system. The remains should then be shallowly buried and left alone for at least 1 month before sowing or planting. If you are skilled in handling the scythe, get ready to use it. The sickle can also be used for smaller areas. The last step is gather your harvest, and add it to your compost pile. You can now work your soil with the spade or garden fork.
At the start of March, do not forget to germinate the potatoes destined to be planted. This process starts about 5 weeks before the anticipated sowing date, as you will need to spread them in a lit and cool area, while making sure it's not too cold. When the sprouts are 1 cm long, they are ready to be planted.
Split up the different plants, such as mint, sorrel, oregano and tarragon before sowing. Finally, one last piece of advice: if you have not done so during the winter, inspect your tools: repair those that have seen better days, change any handles that are looking fragile. There is nothing is more frustrating than having to stop working because of a broken tool!
For garden lovers and enthusiasts who want more know-how, follow the links below for gardening related accessories, advice for our editors and more gardening guides:
- How to weed your garden?
- How to choose your weeding tools?
- How to choose your tools for working the soil?
- How to choose and maintain your tool handles?
- How to choose your lawnmower?
- How to choose your tiller or cultivator?
- How to choose your cultivator?
- How to choose your fertilizer?
- How to choose your compost?
- How to choose your mulch?
- How to choose your weed killer?
- When to prepare your seedlings?
- When to plant a tree?
- How to choose your soil?
- How to prepare your soil for a kitchen garden?
- How to choose your planters?
- How to choose your greenhouse?
- How to choose your watering can or sprinkler?
And for month by month guides:
- What to plant or sow in March?
- What flowers should I plant in March?
- Which vegetables should I plant in March?
- Which vegetables should I plant in April?
- What flowers should I plant in April?
- Which vegetables should I plant in May?
- What flowers should I plant in May?
- Which vegetables should I plant in June?
- What flowers should I plant in June?
- What should I sow or plant in my garden in July?
- What should I sow or plant in my garden in August?
- What should I sow or plant in my garden in September?
Guide written by:
John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge, 57 guides
When I was young, I was already working in the family garden. Perhaps that is where my interest in plants and gardening came from. So, it was logical for me to study both plant biology and agronomy. At the request of various publishers I have, over twenty-five years, written many books on the subject of plants and mushrooms (a subject that is close to my heart).They were mostly identification guides at first, but shortly after they were about gardening, thus renewing the first passion of my childhood. I have also regularly collaborated with several magazines specializing in the field of gardening or more generally in nature. There is no gardener without a garden, I have cultivated mine in a small corner of Cambridge for the last thirty years and this is where I put into practice the methods of cultivation that will I advise you in as well.