Get your garden ready for planting!
Preparation, preparation and preparation are the three most important things in getting the most out of your garden planting.
Things to Do to Prepare for Planting
Rake Up the Leaf Litter
Rake the dead leaves, twigs and other material from garden beds. This material would harbour overwintering pests, pest eggs and disease spores. Put it on your compost heap; a good compost heap will kill the pests and diseases and provide you with organic material for your garden next spring.
If leaves collect on your lawn, they can 'smother' lawn grasses; shading and squashing grass and encouraging damp conditions under the leaves where the disease may flourish. So, rake up those leaves regularly. Or you could blow them off or vacuum them up and use them in your compost.
Get Rid of the Weeds
Many garden weeds grow rapidly in autumn. Make sure you dig them out or spray them off with a suitable McGregor’s weed killer before they get a chance to flower and seed. Remember, one year’s seeds, seven year’s weeds.
Check and Adjust the Soil pH
Check the pH of the soil with a pH meter and look up the pH levels that your plants prefer. E.g. Plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, strawberries and blueberries prefer low pH acidic conditions of around 5.5, while honeysuckles, clematis, poppies, geranium and others prefer higher pH conditions of 6.5 to 7.0. Autumn or cool-season, green leafy vegetables prefer soils with a higher pH, between 6.8 and 7.5. Lawn grasses prefer pH between 6 and 7.
Check and Adjust the Soil Texture
All soils are largely made up of tiny mineral particles. The size of the most abundant minerals in your soil determines whether you have sand, loam, or clay soil. The composition of the soil is called the soil's "texture".
Most soils are mixtures of all three particle sizes but in varying proportions. A predominance of sand particles makes a lighter, more open soil with good drainage and aeration; lots of channels for air and water circulation. Minute clay particles pack together tightly making a clay soil heavier, denser, and with less favourable air and water circulation.
If you have a heavy clay soil add sand or use gypsum to help break the clay up and improve its drainage.
Measure the Soil Fertility by Counting the Earthworms
When digging in your flower beds it is good to watch out for earthworms. Dig out a cube of soil 30 x 30 x 30 cm and count the earthworms you find. If you find 10 or more earthworms your soil is fertile and healthy. If you find fewer than 10 earthworms, you should consider improving the fertility of the soil and encouraging earthworms.
If there are few earthworms in your garden soils it could mean that the soil is compacted, low in organic material or too acidic. Fork and loosen the soil and add organic material such as grass clippings, compost or animal manure to your garden; these will help earthworms thrive. Make sure the pH of the soil is above 4.5, add lime if the pH is lower.
Adding Organic Matter
Top dress garden beds with compost, well-rotted manure or seaweed in preparation for planting. As a top dressing, the organic matter will also act as a mulch and help suppress spring weeds. For existing beds add compost or well-rotted manure to your now weed-free garden beds. Resist the urge to dig the organic matter in deeply; the complex soil ecosystem of established beds is best left undisturbed. Assisted by earthworms and beneficial insects, nutrients added to the top will move their way down into the soil where they will be available to the plant roots and beneficial micro-organisms.
However, if the bed your working on is new or has not been cultivated recently, it is best to dig in the organic matter. Then when the soil has settled down, move to top dressing, as above.
Mulching improves the soil around plants, but it also gives your beds a neat, tidy appearance and will reduce the time spent on watering and weeding. Mulching helps prevent weeds from growing and protects the plant roots from frost in winter. You can plant plants after you have mulched.
Biodegradable mulches break down gradually releasing nutrients into the soil and help improve soil structure. Layers need topped up or replaced when the material has fully rotted down. The best materials are garden compost, leaf mould, spent mushroom compost, wood chips, well-rotted manure, pea straw and seaweed. Make sure these are free of weed seeds. To be effective at preventing weeds, biodegradable mulches need to be at least 7 cm deep.
Avoid mulch touching the stems of the perennials, shrubs or trees. Mulch in contact with stems or trunks may cause the bark to become diseased and rot over time.
Now you are ready for planting!22 February 2024