Spring planting is just around the corner and now is the time to get your garden ready! Be it a flower, herb or vegetable garden, here are some quick, cheap tips for getting your garden in tip-top shape for spring and those first flowers.
The first thing is to begin with your soil. First, rake out your beds and planting areas but be careful of early-blooming shoots. Whether you compost or not, organic matter is the key to good soil. Using a pitchfork, blend together top soil, organic matter, peat moss and a little sand. Lay that down on top of your garden at least four inches deep and work into the ground. The organic matter feeds the soil, while the top soil and peat moss are soil conditioners containing a significant amount of nutrients required for good plant growth. By adding more organic matter to the mix you are super-charging your garden without pesticides and herbicides or chemical fertilizers which can harm the ground water and local animals. The little bit of sand add some texture and give to the soil, making it easier for roots to grow through. Sand also holds water without causing root rot, which can occur in soil that has too much clay dirt. Adjust the amounts you use to match the kind of soil you have.
The Master Plan
Next, develop two lists and a sketch. The first list is what you want your garden (and lawn) to be. In this list, do not limit yourself in anyway. The other list is a list of what you need. Perhaps you need a vegetable garden or area for a swing set and sandbox. Prioritize this list and be hard on yourself. Sketch out your ideas and keep this as a master plan. This will allow you to landscape in stages rather than spend a wheelbarrow full of money right away. Once the planting season comes around you know which perennials and decorative plants with which you must begin. From this point you can slowly add the plants and other touches which will bring your ideas to life. Begin with the things you absolutely must have (maybe a kitty-safe area complete with catnip) and slowly add to that. The first season your garden will not be the oasis of your dreams, but over time you will be able to create that special place that is all your own.
Tools of the Trade
Invest in some inexpensive gardening tools that will last. Every gardener needs at least one shovel, although both a round-ended shovel and a flat-ended shovel are useful and worth the expense. The flat shovel is good for moving and turning over soil while the round shovel is ideal for digging. If you can only have one, go for the round. You should also invest in a good hand trowel for close work and plantings as well as a claw rake for aerating the soil and weeding. You could also get a flat rake, but it isn't necessary. Invest in some sturdy hoses and some kind of hose keeper – a portable one or the kind that attaches to your house or shed. These will help keep your hoses from tangling, kinking or developing pressure tears as you use them. Personally, I like leaker hoses to sprinklers and use them whenever I can. They are quite an expense, but can save a bundle in watering costs as they deliver water directly where you want it instead of to your plants, sidewalk and neighbor's roof the way a traditional sprinkler will.
Spray bottles come in handy and, for most things garden, you shouldn't reuse old ones. Clearly mark what has been in your spray bottles and use the same things in them year after year. Don't use the old window-cleaner bottle for a clean water bottle because some chemical residue could linger on the plastic and will harm your plants.
Vinegar is an inexpensive all-purpose garden helper. Soak grimy clay garden pots in 100% vinegar to take that slat build-up from them. Vinegar is also an effective, non-herbicide way to kill weeds and unwanted grasses in the garden. Be careful when using vinegar to spray only on the plants you don't want. An added bonus is that cats and some other small garden pests do not like vinegar and will avoid your garden – or any other areas you wish to keep them out of.
Plant and Save
Now is also a good time to start your seedlings. Beginning plants from seedlings yourself, while being time-consuming, can also save you a huge bundle. You can start as few or as many plants as you like and completely control the environment they come from for just pennies a plant. Compare this to what it would cost to purchase starter plants in the greenhouse and you'll see a huge difference in your gardening budget. Spend a little time reading up on what your individual plants will need (some like drier starter soil, while others prefer a sunny but cool climate to sprout in).
Planning ahead, reusing things you have around the house and spending just a little extra time now can save you a lot of money and headache later. For instance, there are a few places on the web that offers a variety of free garden samples for anyone to try. Whether you are an avid gardener or just beginning, take advantage of some of these freebie offers and get a head start on your garden projects today.