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Getting your garden ready for spring
The tail end of winter is the perfect time to prepare your garden for spring. Getting a head start on time consuming chores, such as weeding, preparing soil for planting and propagating new plants, improves the success of your spring and summer garden. Dealing with weeds as soon as they appear, preparing soil for planting and propagating seeds indoors before planting outside, ensures your garden will be well prepared for a beautiful and bountiful spring and summer.
Dealing with weeds
Technically, a weed is just a plant which is growing where it is not wanted! Generally weeds are hardy plants, once they are settled, getting rid of them can be a challenge. Weeds are usually classified as annual or perennial; annual weeds grow from seed each year and complete their life cycle in one season, sometimes flowering and spreading seed when they are less than an inch high . Keep a vigilant check on new growth within your garden, carefully dig out weed seedlings as soon as possible to prevent damage to emerging flower or vegetable seedlings. Perennial weeds can last for several seasons and are likely to have extensive root systems , potentially covering huge areas beneath your lawn and sending shoots up across your garden.
Getting rid of annual weeds is theoretically straightforward, as they do not have widespread root systems, they can generally be pulled or cautiously dug out of the ground. The difficulty with annual weeds is that they can go to seed very early; if you notice that an annual weed is flowering, its likely that seed has already been spread . The seeds of annual weeds can lay dormant beneath the soil for many years, growing once the soil is disturbed, thereby exposing the seeds to light and water . This is why these weeds are likely to spring up in recently prepared flower beds or vegetable patches.
The broad root systems of perennial weeds can make them a challenging pest. As the roots are so extensive, simply pulling the weed out of the ground or attempting to dig it out is not guaranteed to solve the problem. Any root remaining beneath the ground can continue to grow, further spreading the weed across your garden. Perennial weeds can be eradicated in a number of ways, but a combination of methods is likely to yield the best results:
If you dont mind using chemicals on your garden, a good quality weed killer can be very effective at eradicating perennials with stubborn roots.
Thorough hand weeding can work on young or less established plants, remember that every part of the root needs to be removed to prevent re-growth.
Perennial weeds rely on light to thrive , so depriving the weed of light will eventually kill the plant. To do this, remove the leaves and cut away the top growth, then cover the remainder of the plant with opaque plastic or old carpet, fixed down at the corners to block out all light. Every few weeks remove new growth from beneath the shield and re-cover. This can be a lengthy process, but should eventually starve the roots, killing the weed.
Preparing the soil
Once your garden has been thoroughly weeded, you can get to work on improving the soil quality. This ensures that the soil is balanced nutritionally and that the texture is favourable for encouraging plant growth.
Turn over the soil, breaking up large clods of dirt and returning them to the bed, repeat this process across the entire area you are preparing to sow. Combine the soil with lots of organic matter, such as garden compost or well-rotted manure; this adds texture to the soil as well as nutrition. Top this with a scattering of fertiliser just before planting.
As spring begins check for new growth, remove weeds as soon as they appear and sprinkle mulch around emerging shoots to help retain warmth and add nutrition.
Sowing the seeds
Planting seeds in your garden early in spring when the weather is changeable enough to warrant a returning frost can be a risky strategy. Many gardeners choose to propagate seeds indoors, transplanting the seedlings to their gardens once the weather has improved and the plant is less vulnerable to the elements. Plants which require very specific conditions to germinate are always best started in a greenhouse or controlled environment, so that you can closely monitor and ensure that conditions are conducive to propagation. If you dont have a greenhouse, seed planting trays with a plastic cover are useful for retaining warmth and maintaining a moist environment.
Always follow the sowing instructions on the seed packet, which will advise on planting depth and spacing. Some seeds need access to light to germinate, so will respond best sitting near to the surface of the soil, others will need to be buried deeper to achieve the best results.
Remember that the seeds are delicate, at this stage they are gently sitting within the soil. The seeds will need to be evenly watered, water applied directly from a hose pipe or from the spout of a watering can is likely to dislodge the seeds, so use a rose fitting on a watering can to disperse water evenly across the bed. Be careful to keep the soil moist without over watering.
If you are sowing seeds directly to your garden, its easy to forget where they have been planted. Mark rows of seeds or keep a garden diary of seed variety and the date of planting; this will help you to keep track of the growth and development of individual varieties. Keeping a note of where different varieties have been planted will also prevent you from mistaking plant seedlings for weeds! Equip yourself with knowledge of the appearance of the seedling plants to avoid confusing new plant growth for weeds. Keep hold of seed packets which have diagrams of the seedling, or research the initial appearance of each variety online and keep a folder of images to reference.
If seedlings have been propagated indoors, they will not be accustomed to the harsh outdoor conditions they are destined for. It is a good idea to gradually introduce seedlings to outdoor weather conditions, move the pots to a sheltered area outdoors to gradually expose the plants to greater levels of sunlight, temperature change and wind for a couple of hours each day. Return the plants to their indoor home when the temperature drops overnight. Repeat this process for a few days before transplanting the plants from their containers to the prepared garden beds. Remember that as small plants, the seedlings will remain vulnerable once transplanted; keep track of the weather forecast and only transplant seedlings to your outdoor plot after the last frost.
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Getting your garden ready for spring