It’s an itchy time of year for us gardeners. The days are getting a little bit longer and a little bit warmer, but yet it’s still not prime time for planting. So what can you do if you’re dying to get out in the garden? Well, it may not be exciting, but late winter/early spring is the perfect time for some garden prep work such as giving your soil a natural boost.
Why Think About Soil Now?
Since only a few things are in bloom, why not tend to your soil?
By helping your soil out now when most plants aren’t blooming and you’re not quite ready to plant new friends in the garden, you give your amendments plenty of time to do their work. For example, if you apply compost now, the nutrients in the compost have time to ooze down to plant roots. As those roots start coming out of dormancy, they have a nice meal waiting for them.
Spreading compost now also gives this magic substance time to “work” on your soil to loosen and improve it. You don’t even have to do any tilling, simply spread the compost over your beds and let it sit for a few weeks. Then, you can choose to leave it as a layer of mulch, or work it into your soil.
You may also want to consider checking and changing the pH of your soil. Because it can take up to a month (or more) for amendments to alter your pH, you ought to get started now if you want to see the changes in time for spring planting.
So, how to go about it?
Rather than re-type words I’ve already written, I’m going to make use of a couple excerpts taken directly from my book Going Native: Small Steps to a Healthy Garden. The first section gives you the low down on soil pH (no chemistry degree required) and the second delves into the wonderful world of compost with a few links to help you out.
Back to Chemistry Class with Soil pH
Now, we need to talk a little chemistry. No groaning!
Your soil pH will affect your plants unless the plants are tolerant of a wide range of soil types. Some gardening sources will provide the range of a plant’s pH preferences, but if you can’t find this information you can make a few assumptions about a plant’s pH needs.
Plants native to rainy areas are generally tolerant of acidic to slightly acidic soil (pH 5.0 to 6.5)
Plants native to arid regions typically like slightly alkaline soils (pH 7.5 to 8.5)
The majority of plants prefer neutral soils (pH 6.5 to 7.5)
Test kits for soil pH range from expensive jobs you send off to a lab to inexpensive litmus strip kits. If you suspect your soil is completely out of whack for your region, go for the lab-tested kits since many of these will also tell you what nutrients your soil is lacking. For most gardeners, the inexpensive kits will suffice. Regardless of which you choose, your soil pH level is a good number to know and will benefit your plants.