published Saturday, March 24th, 2012

Five tips for prepping your garden

Spring has sprung with enthusiasm.

With temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s, it seems hard to believe that there could still be a freeze over the next couple of weeks, but according to University of Tennessee Extension agent Tom Stebbins, there is still a 50 percent chance of frost before April 15.

Therefore, waiting a few more weeks before getting those plants in the ground might be the wisest course of action. In the meantime, however, there are things to do to get the garden ready.

"If you already have a garden, we're doing a lot of ground prep around here," said Joel Houser, executive director at Crabtree Farms.

This weekend, Crabtree is hosting a Ready To Garden workshop. Houser shared some tips on how to prepare a garden ahead of time.

Some people will use raised beds, while others prefer to plant directly in the ground. It is up to the individual gardener to decide between planting in the ground or using raised beds. Raised beds can be preferable for those with limited mobility. Raised beds, he said, also warm up faster than garden soil.

Once you have determined where you want your garden to be and have decided whether you wish to have a raised garden or not, there are some simple steps that can help get things ready to start planting once that frost warning has passed.

1Mow. To prepare the ground to till the soil or set up a raised bed, mow the lawn as short as possible.

2Test the soil. Houser said a soil test "makes all the difference in the world." A soil test allows you to know what kind of nutrients are contained in the soil, so as to create the most ideal base to grow a garden.

"The key to a healthy garden is healthy soil," he said.

3Till the soil. Once the soil is not too wet, but not too dry, start tilling. Tilling soil will loosen it to create a seed bed. It will also help to kill the weeds and distribute nutrients. Houser suggests tilling about three weeks before beginning the planting process.

4If you have a raised bed, put down some cardboard. If you want to put in a raised bed, use a mix of topsoil and compost.

"You want to do something to kill the grass if you're doing a raised bed," Houser said.

He said he prefers to put down cardboard, which will kill the grass and then disintegrate into the soil.

5Mulch, maybe. In general, you'd wait on mulching until May, he said, but it could cool down soil, causing slower root growth. However, the warmth actually might allow it sooner.

An alternative, he said, is to lay down moistened newspaper covered with straw and then dig holes in which to plant through that. This method also helps to keep the weeds out.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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