When and How to Start Prepping Your Garden Beds in New Jersey

In February, the soil is usually frozen and therefore can’t be worked. So if you intend to plant an early spring garden, then the best time to ready your garden beds for planting is before the second week of March.

You want the soil to be prepared in time for that first spring planting, traditionally peas, on or around St. Patrick’s Day. The earlier the better to dig fresh garden beds and plant early spring crops– but you do have some time if you don’t plan to start gardening until May 15th.

If the ground where your garden will go is hard and compacted: turn the soil over with a shovel or pitchfork. Dig the beds to about 12 to 15 inches deep. Do this for the entire garden bed.

Note: raised garden beds can eliminate the need to till or turn over your garden soil. This is because you haven’t been walking on top of the beds, causing the soil to compact. Check the looseness of your soil. You may be able to begin your early spring planting without having to perform this step at all.

If you already have garden beds from last year, then some simple soil prep is all that’s needed. Add compost to your soil at this time if you didn’t already do so at the end of the fall gardening season.

How much compost?

Mix in about 2 to 4 inches of organic compost.

What kind of compost?

We recommend organic compost that’s been purchased from a garden store, as opposed to the big-box store compost blends.

Map out which plants will go where. The tallest plants, like trellis peas, should go in the back of the garden at the northernmost spot. This way, they won’t shade out the other, shorter plants.

Remember that for early crops like peas and spinach, the space they occupy will be available again for a new, hot-weather crop come June.

Carrots prefer loose, sandy soil, so they should take up their own little corner of the garden where you can supplement the soil with sand. Spinach will demand a richly composted area, as they are a nutrient-loving plant (and the more you fertilize spinach, the more nutritious it becomes).

What not to do:

Don’t mulch in early spring. Rather, now is the time to let the soil warm in the sunshine and fresh, dry air. You can mix some leaf mulch into the soil AFTER your plants have gone in and begun to grow. Leaf mulch holds in moisture longer, adds nutrients that you can’t get from wood mulch, and prevents weed seeds from germinating.

Don’t top-dress your garden with wood chips. According to Mike McGrath from You Bet Your Garden: Don’t use wood chips or wood mulch in your garden. Wood doesn’t make the soil more fertile, and the carbon in the wood actually leaches nutrients from your soil and your plants. Some wood chips may be made of pressure-treated wood which contains harmful contaminants such as arsenic and creosote.

March gardening season will be here before you know it! Email mike@4seasonslawns.com for your garden bed construction today.

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