For any passionate gardener, the sight of beds filled up with nutritious soil, free from weeds, repaired from the winter months, and ready to grow is great to see. However, this is only achievable if you successfully prepare your garden beds for planting.
Luckily for you, that’s where I come in hand, and today we’re going to discuss a complete guide to preparing your garden beds for the growing season. But, before we get into this, the main question I’m always asked is, “when should you plant in raised beds?”.
Depending on where you live in the world, your growing season will be dramatically different. However, if you’re developing new seeds in your garden beds, you should wait until the danger of frost has passed.
To find out when your last frost date is isn’t tough. For the United States, it’ll be located on the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (USDA) website. Here they’ll give accurate dates on when specific “zones” (aka states) can expect their last frost dates.
Once you’ve found out this information, in the meantime, we can start preparing your garden beds for your spectacular season ahead. Below we offer a complete guide for preparing your garden beds, so you can start your season off correctly and with a clear mind.
When to prepare garden beds for planting
It goes without saying, mid to late spring is a fascinating time of year for any gardener. The days we’ve been hoping for since winter began are finally here, and we’re able to start doing what we love.
Despite the amazingness of this season, It can be hectic leading up to it. One of these rather busy activities is preparing your garden beds. Most avid gardeners would start preparing their beds early spring, or maybe even just before.
By getting on the bandwagon early, you’re able to guarantee that your beds are filled with rich and nutritious soil. From achieving this, when you sow your seeds during mid-spring, they’re already greeted with perfect living conditions.
It goes without saying, I’m indeed preparing my garden beds, and you most definitely should also. So, why not join me while we go through the steps for prepping your garden beds.
Steps for prepping your garden beds in spring
I understand that gardening can be exciting, and I’m sure you’re eager to start planting. However, failing to provide your beds with sufficient malnourishment and care may result in you having a poor growing season. To eliminate this problem and increase your chances of success, you should consider following the below steps of prepping your garden beds.
1.Remove as many weeds as possible
First, before you do anything, you need to examine the beds and surrounding areas for any weeds or invasive roots. If you visually see weeds and grass, be sure to pull these out. However, you should also carefully look for evidence of any fast-growing roots that may be hidden at first sight.
If you discover some “hidden” roots, be sure to track them back to the main source. Just removing them may not be good enough to stop them from re-rooting during the growing season, which can cause you issues.
Something else you should consider is trees. Trees are known to adore rich, moist soil. If you have large trees located next to your garden beds, it may be worth digging underneath them to see if there’s any encroachment of tree roots.
If you happen to find tree roots underneath your beds, you may want to consider relocating your beds or adding a protective layer under them. However, if you’re choosing this route, you should remember you’re reducing the soil’s drainage capabilities and also decreasing the area of growth for your vegetables or plants.
Failing to pull back or completely remove weeds may result in other plants stealing your hard-earned nourished soil from your garden beds. This is something we ultimately want to avoid, so please do it at all costs.
2.Inspect each bed for repairs
Once you’ve successfully examined your bed from weeds, grass, and unwanted roots, you’ll be able to visually see your beds better. Now you can, you should inspect them to see if they need preparing from the last growing season and winter months.
Typically, they’ll become damaged over the winter because of temperature fluctuations and added weight from the rain. Because your beds will have soil leftover in them from the year before, the soil becomes wet and denser. This enhances the pressure from the soil against the bed’s walls, resulting in them breaking.
However, now spring is here, it’s time to inspect and repair them. Here’s what you should examine before heading onto the next step:
- If you’ve made your own raised beds, you probably nailed or screwed the corners together. During winter and the fluctuations of weather, they may have become loose. In the event they have, you may need to remove the soil from the corners and apply additional support or longer/thicker screws.
- Some people may have commercially built beds. If this is the case, it’s infrequent for them to become loose. This is because they’re constructed with special pins and wooden grooves to interlock them together.
- You should also check to see if your raised beds are bowing outwards. Suppose they’re, it’s better to fix them now rather than later. To fix this, you should attach a piece of strapping across the beds and screw it from the outside.
As you can see from the above, inspecting your beds is easy, and the work required is more than worth completing before you start growing.
Before you start your season, if you’re worried about anything protruding from the sides of your beds, you should take a look at plastic edging. It’s a widely known material used in gardening because it rejects roots from trying to grow into your beds, looks pleasing to the eye, and can offer additional weather resistance because it’s plastic.
3.Add soil amendments and top-up beds
Once you’ve successfully removed all the unwanted roots and carefully inspected your beds, you can now start developing your beds once again. During this step, you want to top up your beds and add soil amendments.
Because of the rain during the winter months, the bed’s soil would have become compact from the heavy downpour. Growing vegetables in compacted soil certainly isn’t ideal. So, before you do anything, I suggest you take a small spade and test your soil. Once you’ve got a spade worth of dirt, see if it’s light, crumbly, and moist. If it is, congratulations, If not, I suggest you cultivate some peat into the soil to “fluff” it up.
Once your soil is fluffy, you’ll want to add some soil amendments. You’re able to achieve this by adding something we call “top dressing.” These are amendments such as peat, rock phosphate, lime, and compost, and you’ll want to spread this into the soil and then cover it with a thick mulch layer. You don’t have to till this into the soil, but for more effective results, it’s certainly recommended.
NOTE – Something you may also want to consider is testing your soil’s pH levels. Be sure to understand this to guarantee a better living cycle for your vegetables or plants. You’re able to achieve this by purchasing testing strips. Remember, some vegetables grow better in acidic soil, and others develop better in alkaline.
Now you’ve got your garden soil in place, and you’re happy with the consistency, it’s time to feed it and make it nutritional. Hopefully, you’ve managed to accumulate some lovely organic and homemade compost from last year, and If you have, brilliant! Now, you’ll want to start adding some compost into your beds.
After you’ve achieved the above, it’s best to monitor your garden beds over the next few weeks. Be sure they have enough water, but don’t over-hydrate them. If you believe you need to add more compost or mulch, I would consider doing it.
4.Set supports for tall crops
Once you have your soil looking rejuvenated, moist, and fluffy, ready for the season ahead, it’s time to start adding some optional extras to ensure your plants have adequate areas to grow. For those planning on growing tomatoes, pole beans, peas, or anything that requires additional support, this next step is for you.
Failing to prepare your supports may result in you disturbing your vegetable’s roots in the future. This is because many gardeners make the mistake of adding supports when they’re needed. However, it would help if you did this before pushing them into the soil, as doing this while your vegetables are developing can have devastating consequences.
Many gardeners (including myself) will be growing tomatoes. If this is you, I recommend you build a simple overhead structure and then cover it with some transparent plastic sheeting. The purpose of doing this is to keep the rain off the leaves, which will increase the chances of the tomato plant actually producing what we want.
From doing this, you’re providing your tomatoes with ideal growing conditions, which will enhance their chances of growing into something magnificent.
Apart from developing a tomato shelter, it’ll also be beneficial to build your “bean walls” if you haven’t already. This way, your peas have a suitable area to climb up against. This also offers them a more robust surface to grow upwards.
5.Wait till it gets warmer to grow
I understand the anticipation of waiting can be daunting for anyone. However, you must be able to restrain yourself in the event it’s too cold to start planting your seeds. Even if you experience a few hot days in a row, try not to fall for the temptation.
Something else you’ll want to consider is the dampness of the soil. If you plant in extremely wet conditions, you risk creating air pockets in the soil. From doing this, your seeds can suffocate, rot and eventually die. To avoid this at all costs, make sure you plant during the perfect conditions to ensure you’re starting your season off right.
If you’re pedantic like me, the best growing conditions are the following – wait until the soil is around 60 degrees before sowing your seeds. For the best germination conditions, the soil will need to increase to 68 to 80 degrees. From being able to provide these “perfect” growing conditions, you can successfully start your growing season correctly.
The above may seem like a daunting task for any novice gardener. However, it’s much less work than you may realize. The duties above can be finished relatively fast, and you don’t necessarily have to be time-specific, but the earlier you’re able to prepare, the better.
Now you understand the fundamentals of preparing your garden beds. It’s time to develop an understanding of watering your beds.
Should I water my raised bed before planting?
Something many gardeners ask me is when or should I water my plants in my raised beds. Many people choose different methods to one another, but today we’re going to clear the air to ensure everyone is on the same track.
In short words, yes, you need to water the soil before planting in your raised beds. This is extremely crucial to guarantee that your seeds have ideal developing conditions. Forgetting or skipping this process can result in your seeds not being able to germinate nor start to develop roots after you’ve sown them into the ground.
As you can see, watering your raised bed is necessary for the start of your plant’s life. Even if you’re transferring plants into your raised beds, you’ll need to add adequate water to ensure it roots well in the new soil.
Below we go into detail about how to properly water your raised beds before the growing season and also during.
Start days ahead
Although many people will label watering just soil “pointless,” they couldn’t be more wrong. If you want to offer your plants and vegetables highly moist soil from the beginning, you need to start watering your beds early spring before you plant.
Failing to do so won’t just result in your soil becoming unsuitable for growing. But, insufficient water can make your soil dry, which means more hard work for you when it comes to planting. You may find that watering your beds for a few days is ineffective. This is because your soil has become compacted over the winter months.
If this does occur, don’t worry. Let it sit and slowly sink through the beds. Before you go ahead and plant, you’ll want to mix up the soil with a tiller or spade, which will ultimately fluff your soil up. Again, after doing this, if you’re still experiencing compacted soil, cultivate some peat into it.
Prepare all your beds
During preparation, you’ll want to water all of your beds. If you haven’t already, you should invest in a sprinkler as this is the most effective way of achieving an even distribution of water. To correctly prepare all of your beds, leave your sprinkler on a low setting for 15 or 20 minutes.
While you’re doing this, ensure that you’re observing the watering. This is because your bed’s soil can be unpredictable during the beginning of the season as the soil’s condition depends on the winter it just had.
To test this accurately, you should conduct a finger test. This requires you to place a finger into the soil to see how far the water has penetrated. Remember, we want moist soil, not something that is soggy. When soil is too saturated, it causes tons of issues to your seeds and plants.
Continue to water your beds
After you’ve achieved excellent moist soil, and you’re pleased with it. You’ll want to sow your seeds or plants. Once you’ve done this, you’ll need to continue supplying them with the correct amounts of water to ensure they’re able to grow.
There are several ways in which you’re able to achieve this. My two favorites are with a sprinkler or a slow-drip system. Either of these supply even amounts of water to the roots and offer a great water source.
Many experts water their beds on a low setting for prolonged periods of time for the best results. This is because it allows for water to soak deeper into the soil. Due to this, your roots get much more nutritional benefits, which makes them grow healthier and more robust.
When it rains, be cautious. Conduct a finger test again to see if your plants need watering. Sometimes rain will offer a good amount of hydration, other times not.
Best way to water raised beds
Now you understand the sheer basics of watering raised beds. I’m going to explain the best ways to distribute water between them evenly. Something people forget, is the influence water has on our plants and vegetables. When you supply them the correct amount, you’ll be shocked by the results. Below is the best way to water raised beds.
Monitor your systems
This doesn’t matter if you have an automatic sprinkler or slow drip system. You need to monitor them. Although automation sounds pleasant, sometimes it can go wrong. The last thing you want is to realize your beds haven’t been watered for a week because your system has broken.
For those who have automatic systems, you should program them to run when you’re out in the garden. When you do this, you’re able to see if they’re operating correctly. For example, making sure the batteries are okay, seeing if you have burst pipes, etc.
Take note of the weather
As mentioned above, be cautious of the weather. When plants experience dry, windy, or blistering hot heat, they’ll need watering much more often. However, if it rains, your beds may need less water than usual. To ensure you’re not under or overwatering your plants, perform a finger test. Here you’ll be able to see how moist your soil is.
Understand the water your plants need
Next, you need to understand what your plant’s appearance is saying to you. Plants that are experiencing under-water stress will appear to have slow growth, dry-leaf edges, curled leaves, droopy stems, or dropped leaves.
However, try not to get this mixed up with heat stress. Sometimes plants will appear to be wilted during the afternoon and look fine in the morning. If this occurs, your plants are suffering from heat stress, not underwatering. However, once you’ve identified the cause, act accordingly.
Water less, but apply more
Many gardeners choose to water their plants slowly but for more extended periods of time. This is a much more effective way to soak deeper into your soil. Shallow watering discourages healthy root growth, which is something we want to avoid at all costs necessary.
Consider watering in the morning
Another important tip is to water in the morning, as plants absorb more moisture during this time. Because of this, you’re able to supply them sufficient water before the daytime heat, and it’ll also dramatically reduce the chances of waterborne disease and pest occurring during the night.
With automatic watering systems, this doesn’t seem to be an issue. However, if you’re not ready to invest yet, you’ll need to make sure you’re watering consistently and evenly. Inconsistent watering can cause both seeds and seedlings to dry out and die.
Think about investing in automatic watering systems
Following the above, you should most definitely consider investing in automated watering systems. They’re a lot easier to manage, and they guarantee consistent watering all year round. Some systems I recommend are below:
- Sprinklers – A great way to achieve consistency and offers plants slow and deep hydration.
- Drip lines – These are great for watering the soil, not the plants. They also allow for even distribution, and they’re superb for minimizing water wastage.
- Watering spikes – An extremely inexpensive way to supply water to your plants. However, the water rate is minimal.
As you’re able to see from the above, preparing your garden beds isn’t so difficult. However, it may require some elbow grease and sweat to guarantee your plants have ideal living conditions. But remember, preparation only occurs once a year, and you’ll be pleased with the results once it’s finished.
So, what are you waiting for? Get prepping for your growing season to ensure you’re supplying adequate beds for your plants.