As important as the right plants are, they can’t do ALL the work for you. A great garden still requires a lot of preparation and maintenance to develop. Before you begin planting in the spring, here is a checklist of the 8 steps you should take to prepare your garden for a successful season:
You should also take this opportunity to replenish your supplies. Make sure you have enough fertilizer and soil amendments on hand. Replenish your supply of plant supports, and pre-assemble any structures like tomato cages that you want to make for yourself. It is a lot easier to do get this work done in your shed while the weather is still icky than to have to worry about it later in spring when there is plenty of things you would rather be doing outside.
Your main concern is any weeds that might still be alive. These must be removed from the soil and either burned or placed in the middle of a working compost pile where the heat will kill it before any seeds can germinate. You don’t want to leave any living weeds around, or they might come back and try to compete with your garden plants!
Whenever you prune your plants, it is a good practice to add a little fertilizer to the soil to ensure that the plant has the nutrients on hand to heal its wounds quickly.
Next add compost and amendments. You can use a soil test to see where you pH and nutrient levels are, which will tell you what type of materials you might want to add. If you have poor or clay-based soil, it is especially important to add a healthy layer of compost to improve the soil’s texture, nutrient content, and moisture-retention. Then rake the soil level and water it lightly to help it settle and release air pockets.
If your existing soil is particularly poor, the easiest option might just be to rise above it with a raised garden bed.
Note: If your clump of perennials is too large to pull out of the ground, you may have to divide them while they are still in the ground by inserting two garden forks back-to-back into the middle of the clump and carefully pushing them apart, then lifting out the divisions for re-planting.
Bulbs and Perennials tend to be straightforward to plant—it’s really just dig, drop, done! Dig the hole at the proper depth and spacing, add any soil amendments necessary, add the bulb/root ball and be sure that the crown is right at soil level, then fill in the hole and water thoroughly.
With Trees and Shrubs, here is a tip to help those roots settle in to their new home: the moat method. Again you should dig a hole plenty large and wide enough to accommodate the plant’s roots, and add a cone of amended soil for the roots to rest on, then fill in the hole with more amended soil. But before you water in, create a ring of soil around the plant a bit wider than the original hole. This ring will act like a berm while you water the plant in, allowing you to really get the deep saturation necessary without turning the whole area into a mud pit.