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Reclaim Your Garden Bed for Spring Planting

Living in a temperate climate dictates that my garden grows for nine months out of the year. I kid you not that I begin dreaming about deep freezes and mountains of snow after about my third month of harvest. I was still stockpiling tomatoes in November of last year while were were picking the last of the pumpkins for Thanksgiving. It was ridiculous and by the time what passes as winter here was gone, it was time to start all over again. Once the weather begins to warm you begin to think about how to prepare your garden beds for spring planting…

Except I didn’t and refused to even think about cleaning out my garden and prepping it until at least May- two good months after many locals had already gotten their seedlings in and protected from any unseasonably late cold spells. This resulted in a happier me, and many, many happy weeds taking over what once passed as a raised veggie garden.

But I’m here today to show you that reclaiming your garden beds is a lot less work that you may think, even when seasonal rains have washed out much of your good soils and it look as if there may be wild animals taking up residence. Cleaning out, preparing, and amending your growing ground is attainable, and in less time than imagined!

What You Will Need

You don’t really need a lot of supplies to get this task done, and every garden may have different needs. I strongly suggest that you do work in heavy duty gloves since reaching into overgrown vegetation and left over organic materials may result in some surprises – like pickers and creepy crawlies.

  • Shovel– a good, long handled garden spade or round handled shovel should do the trick.
  • Rake– Straight head or bow head rakes work well to loosen weeds and help level soils.
  • Manure/Compost and/or Garden Soil– to help replace the many nutrients lost through the previous years growing season.
  • Garden Gloves – Thick leather gloves, or long gloves are probably best for this job.

Getting Started:

Depending on the size of the area you are attacking, give yourself enough time to complete each task in it’s entirety. Maybe one day you want to pull weeds and then amend soils the next, or perhaps you want to get it all done all at once. No matter what you decide, there is no need to rush this process.

Step 1: Pull The Weeds

You might be approaching this task with hesitation due to unrestricted weed growth ( I mean seriously, did you see what mine looked like?!!). It’s amazing how clearing out a few weeds can make such a difference to your psyche though. Go ahead and get in there and start pulling. Your rake may come in handy here too to help loosen the soil and root systems.

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What to remember

Weeds that have gone to seed may scatter during this process. If you know you are shaking loose another generation of vegetative intruders, amending your soils may aide in keeping them from germinating.

Step 2: Remove any Watering System You May Have

Last season I found myself wondering how I was going to keep my raised beds watered short of standing there twice a day in the pretty intense heat we get here. So I came up with a self watering DIY soaker system that didn’t cost me a penny and kept the garden watered all season. Of course it’s buried in the garden, and to amend soils I needed to dig it up and re-lay it. If you have an inground drip or soaker system, I strongly suggest removing it before you plant a shovel in the ground to keep from it being damaged.

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What to remember

Your shovel has a sharp edge and you want to dig deep to amend and mix your soils. Anything you may have in the ground could be damaged in this process. If you cannot remove your system, flag where it is to avoid it in the next step.

Step 3: Turn over the Soil

I think this is the most important step (other than getting rid of weeds) that you can do for your plants in any garden location. Turning over your soils loosens compaction, allows oxygenation, mixes in left over organic materials from the previous growing season, and provides a good foundation for additional soil nutrients.

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What to remember

Dig deep and turn each section. You aren’t trying to mix up the soils yet- this will occur when you amend the soils further. Simply dig and flip to provide a good base for soil improvement.

Step 4: Add in Manure, Compost, and/or Garden Soils

The previous step helped loosen and turn in leftover garden organics, but now you need to help further replace the nutrients lost through plant growth and soil leaching from the previous year. If you are a seasoned gardener, then you probably already have your favorites amongst compost, manure, and other materials you can add into the soils to improve them.

I mixed in both well dried manure (since I have an abundance from my livestock) as well as some organic heavy compost. I also needed to replace washed out and settled soils, and mixed in local dirt to add in the sandy, more drainable infrastructure the manure and compost needed. I spread these over the top and then once again, turned the soils to mix them into the layers of my garden. This should provide both the initial and reserved nutrients my garden will need through the long growing season here.

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What to remember

Make sure sure your manure and/or compost is well broken down and not too ‘hot’ or fresh. If you think it is, be sure to mix it in well, and then hold off putting in any plants for a few weeks to allow it to break down more.

Step 5: Level

Rake out and level your surface to help keep your mixtures well blended, as well as to allow for a loose, oxygenated planting surface. Plus you can get a good look over of where you may need some additional soils or compost during this step.

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What to remember

Leveling soils does more than just make your garden look nice, it also keeps water from pooling in certain places or washing out areas you will be planting.

Step 6: Water

After I laid my soaker hose back out I gave it a good test run to make sure nothing was too close to the surface and water was spreading through the entirety of the hose. If you have a system make sure no kinks are present because if you have to dig it up once plants are established you risk the health of your plants.

Also give your surface a good watering to help allow smaller soils particles to settle, and also allow for your organic materials to continue their decomposition process. This will let you see if you have any areas of water pooling as well.

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What to remember

Seeds and seedlings can easily wash out before they have a strong root system, so taking the time to water and rework your soils is worth the little bit of extra effort.

No More Procrastination!

I am seriously glad I stopped putting off reclaiming my garden, and not just because it was starting to become quite the eyesore. I still do not plan on getting any seedling started for a few weeks yet simply because of how long our growing season is here, plus I want to allow my organic materials to break down further and feed the soils over the next few weeks.

Putting in the few hours this took from start to finish, including pulling weeds and hauling dirt, got me excited to think about what I wanted to plant this year and where to put it. I’m definitely going to keep my garden a bit more simple than last year, but I also think I will have more produce in the long run.

We would love to hear what tips and techniques you have to reclaim and get your garden ready to plant! Comment or question below, and as always, please share!

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About The Author

Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod cuts a tragic figure in the High School English classroom teaching literature by day, and moonlighting as a writer and graphic artist by night. Published in a variety of travel magazines, and now a blog, Danielle enjoys coming up with home and garden projects to complete with her two young boys. A native of Michigan, she resides in Southeastern New Mexico with her variety of horses, poultry, and variable mix of rescue dogs (there’s a cat or two in there as well). In her free time she enjoys travel, art, photography, and a good book!

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