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Desi Dodd, left, and Dakota Walker, center, remove weeds from the student garden at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast on Thursday April 29, 2010. Credit: Kevin Bennett / BDN
The last frost hasn’t arrived yet. But that doesn’t stop gardeners from wanting to get outside to work on their gardens. Fortunately, there’s plenty that can be done during the springtime.
Preparing the garden for the growing season is more than just buying seeds or cleaning out beds. Here are 10 things to do in the early spring to get your garden ready for the growing season.
Get a soil test
In this March 2016 file photo, damp soils sit with carbon dioxide indicators in them at the University of Maine’s soil lab in Deering Hall in Orono. Credit: Ashley L. Conti / BDN
If you haven’t submitted a soil sample to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension already, do it now. Soil tests are important to figure out what your soil needs to be healthier and encourage your plants to thrive.
While you wait for your results, try these easy soil tests you can do at home to get to know your soil better. Once you receive the results of your soil test from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, take the proper steps to choose the right fertilizer for your garden.
Finalize your growing list
Seed packets (perhaps too many for a first-time seedling grower). Credit: Sam Schipani / BDN
Many gardeners have likely already ordered their seeds but now is the time to finalize your growing in order to properly plan your garden. You may need to determine the size of garden you need to feed your family, if that is your goal this year (also, how to make sure you have proper storage for all your crops). There are also some unconventional plants that you can grow that you might not have tried in seasons past, like edible flowers and saffron. If you are looking to add flowers to your vegetable garden for the many benefits they provide, here are some easy ornamental plants for beginners.
You may also want to host a seed swap with your friends to get more variety for your garden. Follow these steps for a pandemic-safe seed swap.
Seedlings planted by Noami Brautigam start to sprout March 16, 2015, at Dickey Hill Farm in Monroe. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN
Because of the short growing season in Maine, many plants will need to be started from seed indoors in order to thrive and grow to their fullest potential. Starting seeds indoors is easy as long as you have a sunny window or grow lights. If you are growing seedlings for the first time, make sure you read the seed packet thoroughly and take care not to crowd your plants. You can try building a DIY seedling grow rack to make your seedlings healthy and strong. If you are looking to up your seedling game, you may also want to invest in heat mats for your seedlings.
You don’t need to spend tons of money on seedling growing supplies, though. You can make DIY seedling growing containers out of items you already have around the house, like newspapers or egg cartons.
Pull up weeds
In this May 2016 file photo, David Wessels, Troy Howard Middle School Garden Project coordinator, holds up a plant for the students to identify while weeding the raised beds at the school gardens with 7th graders. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN
Now that the weather is warming up, odds are your garden plot is starting to look a little weedy. The best time to weed is when the soil is moist and the seedlings are small, like in the early spring. Some natural weeding methods like hoeing and mulching are effective to remove weeds without chemicals. You may even want to use a flamethrower to take care of some of your weeds. Going forward, make sure you keep your garden from falling to weeds when life gets busy.
In this June 2015 file photo, Anna Mason, a summer intern with Veggies for All in Unity, spreads mulch around garlic plants. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN
Speaking of weeds, if you haven’t used mulch before in your garden, this is the year to start. Mulch is a great way to heat up the soil, improve moisture retention and prevent weeds from taking over your garden. Consider all your options in order to choose the best mulch for your garden. You can choose between black plastic and landscape fabric, or even consider choosing organic mulches depending on what your goals are. If you are looking to save some money, you can make upcycled DIY mulches from items you already have around the house like newspaper and cardboard.
Prepare your plot or containers
In this October 2019 file photo, BDN reporter Sam Schipani works with Byron Hale, volunteer property manager of the Bangor Community Garden on Essex Street, to prep her raised bed garden for winter. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN
Just because you don’t have an enormous yard with a garden doesn’t mean your growing season is a lost cause. If you do not have a wooden raised garden bed yet and want to avoid high wood prices, you can use an alternative to the wooden raised bed like straw beds or old tires. If you have a raised bed, consider setting up the grid for square foot gardening to maximize the growing potential of your plot. You can even consider container gardening, which is perfect for gardeners with small spaces.
Shop for what you need
In this May 2020 file photo, Matt Tibbetts, manager of Bob’s Garden Center in Dover-Foxcroft, organizes his supply of plants. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN
Garden centers are stocked up right now on all the equipment you could possibly need for the garden. Every gardener needs certain tools, as well as watering equipment. You also want to take care to choose the best gardening gloves and gardening shoes possible. You don’t need to break the bank, though. You can save money on gardening supplies by making your own DIY equipment and materials, as well as seeking out free resources.
Sanitize and organize
Sam Schipani sanitizes garden containers. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN
Sanitizing your gardening containers and equipment is important to prevent the spread of disease from year to year, and to take care of the investments that you have already made in equipment. Sanitize your garden containers if you didn’t already do so at the end of last growing season, and how to prepare your tools for the growing season. An organized gardening space will also help make gardening easier when the growing season gets busy, so take the time to properly organize your garden shed if you haven’t already.
Get ready for pests
A deer pauses and checks out its surrounding in a field off Route 202 in Bangor on April 14, 2020. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN
Pests and disease can put a damper on the gardening season, but there are certain steps you can take to prepare to keep bugs and critters out. For instance, make preventative efforts like building fences to keep mammalian pests out of your garden, like deer and woodchucks. You can also take measures to prevent early season pests — for example, preparing collars for tender seedlings out of cardboard toilet paper rolls in order to prevent cutworms.
Plant cold-hardy crops
Carrots are seen in the fields at Horsepower Farm in Penobscot. Credit: Ashley L. Conti / BDN
Yes, some plants — even in Maine — can be planted before the last frost, such as carrots, radishes and leafy greens. In fact, some crops are not heat tolerant, and a little bit of chill will make some crops even sweeter than they would be otherwise.
By taking these steps right now, new and experienced gardeners alike can get the green thumb fix and prepare for a much more seamless growing season this year.
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