If you live in a continental climate (zones 3-7) like I do, it is starting to get warm again and you are probably anxious to get out there and do some gardening. If you already have a garden plot, you do not have to do too much, but if you are starting from scratch you will need to prepare the ground before digging in. The first thing you should do is decide where you want your garden to be and then mow that space as low as your lawnmower will go. Place three or four layers of newspaper over the entire area and then throw about five inches of leaves and mulch on top of the newspaper. Once that is done, get your hose and soak the whole area with water. In just a few weeks, the grass will be gone and you will be ready to start planting.
Plan What You Will Be Planting
Do you want to have a vegetable garden or do you prefer flowers? Or you can do both. There is no reason why you cannot grow tomatoes (Lycopersicon lycopersicum) next to marigolds (Tagetes spp.) or peppers (Capsicum annuum) next to petunias (Petunia spp.). In fact, the flowers are good at helping bring the pollinators like bees and butterflies to the garden. Try to plant those that need shade behind tall plants like tomatoes or peppers. Also, you can plan for the dog days of summer when your vegetable plants are looking ragged by filling in those areas with long-lasting begonias (Begonia spp.) or cyclamen (Cyclamen cilicium).
Get Your Plants Ready
If you are growing from seed, you should start early, like now. However, I prefer to use seedlings. They do not cost much more and you can see what you are getting. I used to plant seeds, but after planting a bunch of them and only getting a few plants to bloom, I decided I would rather not wait around just to be disappointed later. Then, when I finally admit to myself that they are not going to bloom I would end up having to go get seedlings anyway. And I am sure you all know that if you wait too long, the choice of seedlings become pretty sparse at the local gardening stores and nurseries. Anyway, get them all ready and set them out in the garden next to the spots you want to plant them.
Planting Your Seedlings
Okay, of course, you need to dig some holes. Depending on the size of your garden and how many seedlings you are planting, you may want to use some string (any kind) and pegs (I use tent pegs but you can also just use sticks) to make the rows straight. For example, if you want to plant six rows with eight seedlings in each row, measure them out so you have about two feet between each row. This gives you enough room to walk in between the plants when weeding or picking vegetables. Starting at the first row, stretch the string across the row and measure about 10 to 18 inches between each seedling, depending on the type of plant. Use a hoe or spade to dig a hole a bit deeper and wider than the container it is in. Cover your seedling with soil and mulch. Do not forget to water your seedlings before transplanting and again after they are planted. It is a good idea to put a fence around your garden to keep the rabbits and other critters out.
Get Your Yard in Order
Well, what about the rest of your yard? How is your lawn? Does it need to be aerated? What is aerating anyway? First, you need to go around and pick up any sticks or other debris that may be laying around. This is a good job for the kids or grandkids. They love to help and your back will thank you later for not having to lean over a hundred times. Another job I would give to the kids is raking. That is another back-breaking job that kids would enjoy.
Aerating and Weeding
Aerating is basically just poking holes in your lawn. You can do this several different ways. There are automatic aerators that you can attach to your lawn mower, some that you can push yourself, or they even have some you can strap to your shoes and you just walk around the yard with them on. This allows the lawn to breathe, breaks up the roots to let the grass grow better, and helps the nutrients reach down where they need to be. When the roots are too compacted, it can smother the grass and block out sunlight, air, and water. Now is the time to get rid of the weeds too. If you have crabgrass, you will want to use a crabgrass controller now, and then give the entire lawn a good soaking.
No matter how nice your lawn looks, it can always benefit from some fertilizer. You should find out the right mixture for your lawn. Do you just want to grow thick green grass? You can use 25-6-4. For more flowers, 15-30-15 is better. What do the numbers mean? Well, the first number stands for nitrogen, the second is for phosphorus, and the third is for potassium. Nitrogen is important for stimulating chlorophyll production. Phosphorus helps build strong roots and boosts the growth of flowers, vegetables, and fruits. Potassium is needed to help the plants digest their food.
How to Spread the Fertilizer
It is always best to use granulated fertilizer for the first feeding in spring. You can use a water-soluble fertilizer, but it will not last as long. You can use a rotary or broadcast spreader, which can attach to your lawn mower or they have the kind you push like the aerator. There is a drop spreader that you can also use on your mower or push by hand. If you have a small lawn, you can use a handheld broadcast spreader. You just walk around with the spreader and crank the handle as you go and it drops the fertilizer for you. Then there is the handheld battery-powered spreader that works the same way as the handheld broadcast spreader but you do not have to crank the handle. These are best for small lawns too because they do not hold much fertilizer. No matter how you fertilize the lawn, make sure you water it afterward and clean up any spilled fertilizer because it is toxic to animals and children.
Okay, now you got your garden and lawn ready for spring. Time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the view. Thanks for reading my article. If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, feel free to use the comment section below.