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Soil Preparation

Soil Prep Is Important for Successful Gardens

Preparing the soil is one of the most important steps in gardening.

If erosion is not a problem, plow or spade clay soils and grassy areas in the fall. Limestone is most effective when applied in the fall.

On new garden sites that were lawn areas or were heavily infested with weeds, consider using an approved chemical to kill existing plants before turning the soil. Plow or turn soil to a depth of 7 or 8 inches. Leave fall-plowed land rough until spring.

Many garden tillers are not adequate equipment for the initial breaking of soil in a new garden site. Starting in early spring, disc or rake the soil several times at regular intervals to keep down weeds and to give a smooth, clod-free planting bed.

If you did not plow or spade the garden site in the fall, turn the soil in spring as soon as it is dry enough to work. A good test to determine if the soil can be worked is to mold a handful of soil into a ball. If the ball is not sticky but crumbles readily when pressed with your thumb, the soil is in good condition.

If you did not apply recommended lime to the garden site in the fall, apply both lime and recommended fertilizer in the spring. Plow or spade the soil, spread the lime and fertilizer, and mix it in with a disc, harrow, or rototiller.

Pulverize the soil and get a smooth, level surface by raking as soon as possible after turning. This helps to firm the soil, break up clods, and leave a smooth surface for seeding. Soil left in rough condition for several days after turning in the spring may dry out and form hard clods, making it much more difficult to prepare a good seedbed.

Prepare a small garden plot for planting by using a spade, shovel, or spading fork to turn the soil. Use a small tractor or garden tiller for a larger garden. Completely cover all plant material on top of the ground and work it into the soil when the soil is turned.

Where the soil is clay and level and likely to stay wet, use a hoe, rake, or tiller to pull the soil into raised rows that are 10 to 12 inches across on the tops. Let the sides slope gently to the walkways to provide good surface drainage.

Conventional row spacing is 36 to 40 inches apart, but spacing depends on a number of factors: equipment, garden size, and vegetables being grown. Rows for vigorously vining vegetables like watermelons, cantaloupes, pumpkins, and winter squash are usually 6 to 8 feet apart.

Raised bed gardens are relatively easy to prepare for planting once the beds are constructed. (See Raised Beds)

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