Spring is a wonderfully fun time, but also a very busy time for gardeners. We have a lot of tasks on our to-do lists and everything feels like it needs to be done right now. Be excited to get started for the Spring gardening season? Get yourself off to a good start! This post will mainly discuss about preparing soil for spring planting. Get a head start this gardening season with a well-prepared raised garden bed.
Most gardeners think prepping raised garden beds for spring planting requires many hours of time-consuming and often physically exhausting labor. Luckily, you can keep it simple. Making sure you have adequately prepared your raised beds for Spring planting is essential. It will go a long way towards ensuring that you have a productive harvest, and can help minimize disease too. Find a day that is unseasonably warm in the later winter months to get started!
To get started, it is recommended that you remove any large weeds from around the outside of your garden bed. While this may seem odd, since they aren’t actually in the bed itself, you’ll be thankful later! Large weeds that grow just outside your bed can spread rhizomes or seed into the bed itself, which quickly becomes a problem.
Make sure to go back throughout the growing season and cut these weeds back. This will starve the taproot, and eventually they will give up. For weeds like Canada thistle, attempting to remove the root is just going to result in root pieces breaking off and growing more plants.
Once the outside of your garden bed is trimmed back, go ahead and remove the weeds inside of the bed. If your soil is loose, this may be less work than expected. If your soil is hard, you might have to use some elbow grease to get the beds fully weeded. A standard garden hoe will help you easily remove chunks of weeds and break up large clumps of grass.
Have a wheelbarrow handy and throw all of your weeds into it. When the time comes, finish the compost with a good amount of carbon and monitor the temperature to make sure the weed seeds are killed off.
Aerate The Soil
Aerate the soil using a broadfork or, if your soil is not very compact to begin with, a tool like the Garden Weasel. This will help to remove any clumps of grass or weeds that were left behind.
The best way to prepare the soil for a raised garden bed is to weed it, ensure that it has not compacted, and apply a top dressing of both compost and mulch. If your soil has compacted over the winter, add elements that will help loosen the soil like vermiculite, perlite, coconut coir, or peat moss, and use a broadfork to help aerate the existing soil.
If you have grass growing in your raised garden bed or very persistent weeds, you may want to employ some light sheet mulching to help you regain control of your raised bed.
Simply add a compostable material (like newspaper, paper grocery bags, or a roll of brown kraft paper) on top of the soil. To keep it in place, make sure to wet it first or shortly after placing it in the desired location. You want to overlap your pieces slightly to prevent any light from coming through the paper.
If you will be planting within the next three months or so, you’re going to want to use something thin like paper grocery bags or newspaper. If you are preparing your garden beds for the following spring (for example, it’s the end of Winter), you can certainly use a layer of cardboard instead. Just make sure it is brown cardboard without a glossy print on it, and all staples and tape have been removed.
Adding Compost to Raised Beds
Once your sheet mulching layer is complete, add on 1-2″ of compost. This is a best practice for all sorts of raised beds, and it’s a step I recommend taking at least yearly, but twice yearly is even better (once in the Spring and once in the Fall).
Note that all the composts must be fully composted, meaning there should be zero smell and they should have been composted at a high enough temperature to kill off any weed seeds. Manure in particular can be dangerous if it is not composted, as it can burn your plants. If applying manure that has not been composted, it is only safe to apply in the Fall, since it will have the Fall and Winter months to break down further.
Once your compost is in place, use a garden fork or hoe to spread the compost out in an even layer, aiming to cover any sheet mulch with at least 1-2″.
Mulching Your Raised Beds
Adding several layers of mulch to your raised beds is a great practice, and can be done even if you plan on planting seedlings in your bed. Mulch will further prevent weed seeds from germinating, and will also help protect the moisture within your beds, meaning you won’t have to water as often.
Once your compost has been spread out evenly, add some bark mulch or wood chips. You can use whatever type you like but without black mulch, since it can heat up during the hot summer months and has even been known to catch fire! Black mulch can be beneficial if you’re in a cool climate and want to get a good yield from heat loving plants like tomatoes and peppers.