A good garden always starts with good soil.
And since most garden soils in the UK have some limitations in terms of their pH balance, drainage, nutrient content and a whole host of other factors, the soil in your garden alone is usually a little less than perfect for planting.
New build properties for example can be a nightmare in this respect, and the soil can by more building sand than anything else, trust me I know…
Spring planting should always start with a basic soil test and the proper amendments needed to improve the soil every year need to be made to give you the best possible start.
Most soil testing kits are pretty easy to use to be honest and they are available at any garden centre, while the BBC have a really simply to follow guide to Soil Testing that will help you establish your soil type and what you can do to improve it for planting.
Good soil should basically compact into a ball in your hand and then crumble apart when you open it. And soil like this will allow air and moisture to reach your new seeds. The soil type/PH side varies dramatically from garden to garden, as do the specific steps for readying your garden in terms of what your soil needs to improve it.
However, the actual preparation of your flowerbeds is generally the same regardless of what needs to be done. In this post, Lazy Susan will give you a basic overview on how to test your soil, a few of the tips we’ve picked up down the years and share with you how we get our flowerbeds ready for the coming Spring.
Testing Your Soil
If you are using a home soil testing kit, then make sure you cut straight down into the soil, away from any decaying plant matter including mulch and leaves if possible, to obtain a 3″ sample of soil. Decaying plant matter can skew results as nitrogen is pulled from the soil to help in the breakdown of these materials.
If your garden stretches into different soil types – for example, areas that get less sun or stay wet for longer after a downpour – then you should really collect multiple samples of soil and mix them together for a more accurate average reading.
If you are taking your soil to a garden centre for testing, then again dig down and place the soil in a clean, plastic container. Its worth taking the time to do this as soil testing will help you better understand your soil’s chemical makeup, drainage, pH levels and nutrient content.
Follow the test recommendations and purchase any necessary soil amendments. This could include everything from compost, composted manure, peat moss, humus, coarse sand and sawdust to a need for improved drainage; lime or aluminum sulfate to balance acidity (pH); or some bone meal, fish emulsion, slow-release fertilisers and other organic matter to improve the overall nutrient content.
It all depends on what your soil needs, but even a good home test kit will give you advice about applying fertiliser, altering pH levels, the needs of hundreds of plants and ways to grow organically. Please make sure that if you’re growing vegetables and other edible plants that any fertilisers you use are safe for consumption too.
When it comes to amending your soil, it is best to individually turn each amendment into the ground to a depth of between 6″ to 12″. Many plant roots will need as much as 18 inches of soil, so check the specifics in terms of what you want to plant for best results.
If you need to go deeper than 12″, make sure you do it! Continue to turn each amendment into the soil until you achieve a fine, crumbly, well-mixed consistency. And as I mentioned before, I was taught to always add one amendment at a time for the best results.
Getting flowerbeds Ready for Spring
In terms of getting your flowerbeds ready for Spring, this is the same no matter what amendments need to be made. In fact, before I do any testing, I will always start by removing any plant debris leftover from Winter and Autumn.
I’ll take the time to mark the location of my perennial plants as this helps to stop me damaging the roots when I’m amending the soil. I tend to get a little fork happy! Once all this is done, mark out all the areas in your garden where plants were planted last season.
Clean your garden bed of all loose leaves and debris. Pull out any weeds and unwanted plants and then five the beds a good soaking with a garden hose to wash away and possible animal ‘presents’.
When the weather improves and you get the chance to cut the grass, save all the grass clippings and scatter them onto the cleaned flower bed. Try to do this within a week of cleaning out the bed or else you may have to weed again.
Don’t worry, using grass cuttings will not cause more grass and weeds to grow in your bed, but it will filter down to the soil and decompose rapidly (usually within a few weeks). During this breakdown process, the cuttings will feed soil organisms, recycle plant nutrients, and contribute organic matter to the soil.
After say a further week or two, start working the soil again and mix in all your clippings, compost and fertilizer etc into the beds. The end result should be a loose composition of all three and if you dig up the odd worm or two, just help it back into the soil.
Make sure you keep the soil moist until you are ready to plant and don’t let it dry out. Keep on adding your grass cuttings every time you cut the grass and when you’re ready to plant, just rework the soil again to mix everything up.
That’s all there is to it. Take on board Lazy Susan’s tips this coming Spring and I guarantee you will see the results in your Summer flowers.