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Preparing Your New Garden
by Julie Bawden-Davis
Planting a garden is an enjoyable undertaking that can result in a tasty, bountiful harvest. To have success growing a garden, it’s important to follow a few steps when preparing a new garden bed. Consider these tips on how to start your garden.
Plan a vegetable garden design
An important part of your garden preparation is deciding on a design. Doing so helps you choose vegetables for your garden for successful growth and harvest.
Keep in mind when planning your vegetable garden design the eventual size of plants. A 6-inch-tall tomato plant will eventually reach at least 6 feet tall and wide. Allow 2 to 3 feet between plants at maturity, or you risk overcrowded conditions that will lead to lower yields.
In the garden design, also plan for the placement of plant supports, such as tomato cages and trellises.
Choose a garden location
Most vegetables require full sun to produce and thrive. Find a location in your landscape that receives 6 to 8 or more hours of sunlight per day. Help prevent the likelihood of disease by also choosing a planting site that has good air circulation.
Since weeds steal water and nutrients from your vegetable plants, it’s important to get rid of them during your garden preparation. Hoe or rake out large weeds, and then use a garden trowel to dig out smaller, more persistent weeds. Prevent any weed seeds from making their way back into the garden by bagging the weeds and disposing of them.
Amend the garden soil
Look for a site that is well-draining, yet contains rich soil. Test the drainage by digging a 6- to 12-foot hole in the area and filling it with water. If it drains within 90 minutes, the drainage is good. If the drainage is poor, amend the soil with compost at a rate of 30 percent to 40 percent compost to 60 percent to 70 percent soil.
When amending, prepare your new garden by also adding a vegetable starter fertilizer to the soil according to package directions. This will give your plants necessary nutrients to get off to a good start.
If you’ve never planted a garden at the site, take samples of the soil and send it out to a soil testing lab or your local cooperative extension office, or test the soil yourself with a soil test kit.
Test results indicate the pH of your soil and the minerals it contains and lacks. After you receive the results, amend to correct any deficiencies. If the soil is especially alkaline, for instance, but you want it to be acidic, add soil sulfur as recommended on the packaging.
Mulch the garden
Mulch provides many benefits to your new garden. Add a 2- to 3-inch protective layer of chipped or shredded bark or decomposed leaves. Doing so will conserve soil moisture, which cuts down on the need to water your new garden. Mulch also protects beneficial microorganisms that increase the disease-resistance of your plants. In addition, mulch helps prevent weeds.