Prepare for a spring garden

Get an early start on your spring garden to prepare the ground, mark off the beds, and plant your seeds or seedlings for successful results.

Preparing a garden is a wonderful hobby that puts us in touch with nature at a time when the earth awakens after a long winter's rest. Getting out into the fresh air and handling moist soil lets us escape the paper-pushing pressures that can bog us down and stress us out.

As you plan ahead for this outdoor project, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Buy your supplies early. You can save a lot of money, sometimes 50% or more, when your purchase garden tools and equipment at the end of the season. Stock up in late summer or early fall after doing an inventory to see what you will need the following year. Store these items in a clean, dry area such as the garage, basement, shed, or attic to keep them in good shape for the following spring.

2. When spring finally rolls around, head outdoors to clean up the yard. Take a clean rake, shovel, and wheelbarrow. Don't forget to put on gloves and perhaps a face mask, or ventilator, if you are allergic to mold or pollen. Start by picking up branches, papers, toys, sticks, and stones and placing them in the wheelbarrow for later dumping in your trash. Or you can carry along a trash bag and toss them in it instead. Work your way in strips or rows through your lawn, up its length and down again, as you remove debris. Use the shovel to pick up things you don't want to handle, such as small dead animals if you find them or fixed stones that are hard to remove from the earth by hand. Rake up loose straw or last year's final lawn clippings to give your lawn a fresh, new look.

3. Next, take a measuring stick or tape and measure off your flower or vegetable beds unless you are using the same ones from previous years. You may want to design square, rectangular, oval, or circular beds. Try to make them even and uniform for aesthetic appeal. Set the beds at appropriate intervals and in sunny or shady places on your lawn (depending on what you plan to grow), preferably out of the way of marauding dogs and curious cats. You may want to cordon off these areas to keep out the kids and their toys.

4. Rake the ground in each bed, using a stiff-tooth rake to break up the soil and sods. Then use a cultivator or hoe to turn the earth over so it can breathe and absorb nutrients and moisture. Remove newly revealed stones or other debris to keep the dirt fine and manageable.

5. Depending on the grade of soil you are working with, consider adding nitrates recommended by your local greenhouse or nursery associate. Additives of this type can fertilize and enrich the soil to prepare it for nourishing plant life. Water the earth as needed to keep it moist but not soggy.

6. Follow planting directions for seeds, seedlings, and plants or shrubs. This may come a few days or weeks after you have worked the soil to promote oxygenation and fertilization. Care for your plants by adding fertilizer and watering as needed. You may need to take pest control steps as well.

Caring for a garden is a bit like raising children. It's an awful lot of hard work, but the end result is so worthwhile. In addition, the fresh air, sunshine, and physical activity will help your soul to bloom as well!

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