Preparing for the new season

By Sereba Agiobu-Kemmer   |   11 March 2017   |   4:00 am  

Garden covered with mulch

Getting rid of weeds and preparing soil ready for your flowers and vegetables are important first step in growing a successful garden. Last year’s debris after the dry season’s onslaught left in its wake dead leaves, dead branches, dead annuals that have given up the ghost after their splendid one-off performance, and dead flower heads of perennials. It seems there is so much clearing and tidying up to do. Creating new garden beds can be time consuming, but with good planning and some muscle, it will be worthwhile. Time spent in preparation reduces the time you will have to spend maintaining and weeding your garden over the course of the growing season. You can clear your garden area anytime during the year but the season before planting works best. You can clear the area the day before you plant, but you may have more problem later. March is when the new gardening year start, so it’s time to get cracking. If you already have an established garden, clean up the debris now and till the ground before planting. Here are basics of clearing and preparing your garden site.

Tools and materials.
Strings and wooden stakes glyphosate herbicide (optional)
Hoe or mattock
Steel garden rake
Soil testing sample kit
Soil amendments, as required
Garden fork or rototiller

Choose the site
Thick grass or vigorous weed indicates soil drainage and nutrient levels that will support healthy garden plants. Choose a level site if possible either natural or terraced.

Mark the boundaries
Outline new garden plots with strings and stakes

To get your edges straight for a square or rectangular beds
Stretch a string between sticks and mark the line with a trickle of ground white limestone.

For a round garden, use a hose or rope to layout the area, adjusting the position to create a smooth curve. If you want several individuals beds separated by permanent paths, outline each bed independently with string, sticks and limestone so you don’t waste time improving soil that you’ll never use. On the other hand, if you think you may change your garden layout from season to season, work the entire area within the outline.

Eliminate the competition
Clear the surface first by removing plants, weeds, twigs and rocks. If necessary mow the site to cut back the grass and weeds close to the surface of the soil. You can kill weeds and aggressive grasses in these ways:
Hand dig and sift: For a small garden dig up the earth and carefully sift the soil, removing sod and root parts that may come back next year as weeds.

Chemical warfare
Kill weeds with glyphosate herbicide, pull them by hand or chop them with a hoe or mattock and rake them up.

Applying a covering
If time permits an easy chemical-free way to clear your garden, if time permits, is to cover the grass and weeds with old carpet, cardboard or black plastic sheet anchored to the ground . For best results leave the covering in place for several weeks of hot weather. Under these impermeable covering, existing plants die from lack of sunlight. It may not look pretty, but it works like charm-especially on annual weeds. For perennial weeds, you may need to dig out their roots, after applying the plastic. Use the thickest plastic or cardboard least 2 millimeters, but 4 millimeters is even better.

Test the soil
Do-it-yourself soil testing kits work best for detecting the soil pH, but give only rough idea of the nutrient levels. Professional tests provide more thorough and accurate information and recommendations. Send a sample of garden soil to a private or cooperative extension office soil-testing lab for nutrient and pH analysis. Call the lab or local garden center for collection kit and instructions how to collect the sample. Test results will tell you which minerals and pH amendments your soil needs to grow healthy vegetables and flowers.

Add amendments
Adjust the soil PH- its measure of acidity or alkalinity- by adding ground limestone or sulphur as recommended by the soil test results. Improve the soil fertility, clay soil drainage and sandy soil water-holding capacity by adding organic material, such as compost , well-rotted livestock manure, composited bark. Apply a 1-2 inch layer of organic material over the garden.

Turn the soil.
Work the amendments into the top 6 to 12 inches of soil with a rototiller or garden fork. Break up large clods of soil with a rototiller or garden fork. Break up large clods and remove rocks and roots. Work the soil only when it is dry enough to crumble easily after squeezing-never when it is wet.

The Drought Factor.
If you live in a region affected by drought, seriously consider getting rid of that water-guzzling patch of lawn in your front or back garden or both. You’d have to be living in a cuckoo world not to understand how something so simple as replacing a lawn with hardscaping materials or drought tolerant plants can greatly reduce the amount of water your household consumes. You owe it to your community and the planet. Set a good example for your neighbors to have a water-wise garden using native and drought tolerant plants. Make plans now!



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