Getting the garden ready for the season can feel like such a daunting task. At this point, the lawn may be looking shabby and appears that it needs a good hair cut to knock down some weeds. Weeds may be eyeing you each time that you walk past the landscape and flower beds. The vegetable garden needs some attention too! If you already feel defeated, I have got just the solution for you! In episode 2 of the Sunshine Gardening podcast, I am sharing my top 3 spring gardening chores to help you finish strong for the month of March. Once you have completed these chores, I bet that the other tasks will seem less daunting to you. Stay with me as we march into those spring gardening chores!
Soil is the basic foundation block for gardening. All plants require essential nutrients to grow and this process is done by supplying nutrients through the root system which is then anchored into the soil. In Kentucky, soils are often times less than ideal with lots of red clay content which makes it difficult for soil drainage and nutrients to reach the plants root system. To help alleviate this issue, gardeners must first build good soil.
The first step to obtaining good soil is through the use of a soil test. Soil testing is one of the best practices to perform annually for your garden because there is simply no guesswork involved. A standard soil test will determine the current fertility status of phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), pH, and cation exchange capacity. Soil test recommendations will also reveal lime and fertilizer rates to apply which makes it extremely cost effective for home gardeners and even commercial horticulture producers. Most vegetable gardens perform best under slightly acid conditions with a pH range of about 6.2 to 6.8.
When taking a soil sample for a home vegetable garden plot, take soil samples 6 to 8 inches deep. Next, collect 12 to 15 core samples using either a soil probe, spade, or trowel at the recommended depth. Make sure to take samples at random by scattering to different locations in the area to ensure a well, represented sample. After collecting samples, mix all the cores together in a clean bucket. Allow the sample to air-dry on newspaper for a day and bring contents in a bag to the Extension Office. Soil test samples generally take a minimum of a week to two weeks maximum to get back. Extension agents will review the soil test results, highlight the recommendations and sign it before returning to the client in the mail.
If you are sampling other areas around your home, contact the local Extension Office in your area. They will be happy to walk you through the proper steps in soil sampling different horticulture crops.
The spring season is the perfect time for breaking ground. Sometimes though, the spring weather can be a wet one. Wait to work the ground until the soil has dried. Working ground when wet hurts the overall soil structure by forming clods that are difficult to break apart. Some gardeners may want to consider planting their spring vegetable transplants in raised bed gardens since they warm up faster and dry out quicker in comparison to conventional gardening plots.
The best indicator in knowing when to break ground is when soil is moist and crumbles readily when formed into a ball. Loosen the soil to a depth of 10 to 12 inches with a spade or rototiller. Pulverize any clods that may work their way to the top, since large dirt clods can cause poor seed germination. Spread compost out and lightly work it into the soil.
Incorporating Organic Matter
Another secret to achieving good garden soil is by incorporating organic matter. Adding the right ingredients of organic matter will improve soil structure and take care of several issues. It helps to loosen and improve soil drainage of heavy clay soils and increases both the nutrient and moisture holding capacities. Organic matter also favors a buildup of beneficial organisms such as natural bacteria and fungi needed to help break down the materials.
Types of organic matter include composted leaf mold, grass clippings, manure, newspaper, and pine bark humus. When using manure, avoid applying fresh manure in the spring, since the high nitrogen content can injure plant roots. Aged or composted manure can be applied in the garden at any time, spring or fall.
Planting Cool Season Vegetables
Cool season vegetables are the crops that thrive in the cooler temperatures of Kentucky’s spring gardening season. These plants grow best with relatively cool air temperatures between 50 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit and are raised either for their leaves, stems, or flower buds. If you have produced transplants indoors, remember to “harden off” vegetable transplants two weeks before planting outdoors by gently exposing them to the outside temperatures. To do so, take your transplants outside in the day time and bring them in at night. If you want to learn more about hardening off, check out episode 1 on starting seeds indoors.
Early bird gardeners can move their cool season vegetable transplants out into the home vegetable garden beginning in March. March 25th happens to signal the time for planting cabbage, lettuce (leaf), Bibb lettuce (plants), head lettuce (plants), and onion (plants) outside. To know when to plant other future cool season vegetables crops in Kentucky, check out the Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky publication #ID-128. For a link to this guide, please see our show notes.
To avoid transplant shock and wilting, first soak the roots thoroughly an hour or two prior to transplanting in the ground and choose a shady day in late afternoon or early evening. Next, dig a hole that is large enough for the root system to spread out evenly and establish itself. Handle the plants carefully and set the plants to the lowest leaf at the recommended spacing for that specific vegetable being grown. This information can be found on the plant label or seed tag where you purchased plants. In each planting hole, pour 1 cup of starter solution such as a 20-20-20 analysis at the rate of 2 tablespoons per gallon of water around the plants. If you desire an organic source, fish emulsion is a recommended organic fertilizer starter solution.
Lastly, place more soil around each plant and press the soil firmly with your hands around the roots to get rid of any air pockets. After setting out the cool season vegetables, it is a good idea to check plants daily for moisture or insect pressure.
Getting the Mower Ready!
Before firing up the mower, spend some time to make sure that your mower is running in tip-top shape for the spring. Change the oil and air filter to help improve engine performance. This step can also help save on fuel and reduce emissions into the air. Refer to the owner’s manual if you have any questions. It is especially important to check the mower blades. If lawn mower blades are not sharp, dull blades can cause the engine to work harder since it takes more energy for the blade to run through the grass. Dull mower blades can also damage grass leaves which results in a ragged lawn appearance and can increase turf diseases. Depending on how often you mow, blades should be sharpened at least a couple of times each year. If this is not something that you feel comfortable in doing, take to a mechanic shop to have sharpened.
Lowering the Mowing Height in the Spring
Grass starts to grow again in the spring when temperatures start to increase. There may be an accumulation of dead grass leaves throughout the lawn that will encourage the soil temperature to stay cool. By removing this dead grass with lower the mowing height, sunlight can reach the soil surface better and promote the grass to grow earlier. Shorter mowing heights in spring may also help improve the density of the grass, which helps it have a better defense system for fighting annual grassy weeds like crabgrass. Remember to gradually lower the mowing height since a quick reduction in the turf canopy can cause an increase of crabgrass to germinate.
Applying pre-emergent herbicide to help control crabgrass and goosegrass
- Annual grassy weeds such as crabgrass and goosegrass begin to germinate in the spring. By applying a pre-emergent herbicide prior to germination, weed numbers can be drastically reduced and your lawn can have the chance to flourish without fighting weeds for space, nutrients, light, and water.
- In western Kentucky, a pre-emergent herbicide should be applied prior to around April 7. In central and eastern Kentucky, the spray before date is usually around April 15.
- A good indicator plant for knowing when to apply a pre-emergent herbicide is forsythia. Generally, a pre-emergent application should be applied before forsythia drops its blooms.
I hope that you can focus on other gardening tasks better now that I have covered areas like the soil, how to prepare the soil for planting, what vegetable plants are best for planting now, how to get the mower ready for the season, and other chores needed to help the spring lawn.
If you would like additional information on other tasks to perform for March, make sure to see the show notes. I have developed and compiled a checklist of garden activities to perform in and around the Kentucky garden for the month of March. Hopefully this guide will help you see the different jobs that are needed to be done now and get you a step ahead for future gardening tasks!
Hope that you enjoyed this episode of the Sunshine Gardening Podcast! To see the show notes for Episode 2 and additional resources mentioned from today’s show, please follow me on the blog at Warren County Agriculture, https://warrencountyagriculture.com/. Feel free to leave any questions that you might have or any additional comments on the blog or contact me directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Leave me a review on iTunes so I can know what information to bring to you each week. To sweeten the deal, the first 10 subscribers to leave me a review on iTunes will earn a gardening prize.
Make sure to tune in with me for more gardening information each week right here on the Sunshine Gardening Podcast! Each week, I plan to share seasonal gardening tips and tricks to help gardeners reach their gardening goals and to help the sun shine a little brighter over your Kentucky garden. To stay up to date on all the latest episodes, hit the subscribe button wherever you get your podcasts.
Keep digging into gardening and remember to add a little sunshine!
- Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky, http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agcomm/pubs/id/id128/id128.pdf
- Weed Control for Kentucky Home Lawns, http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agcomm/pubs/AGR/AGR208/AGR208.pdf
- Video for knowing how to sharpen lawn mower blades, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMy1j9NR89o&list=UUMFY6zEWe6uJEYakzOofhIg