My favorite time of year!
To start with, I am only sharing the things I have found to work for me in my humble little garden. I am a mere 5 years into my first real garden and I have had many failures and many triumphs. I am learning more every year but you should by no means consider this to be professional advice, only tips from an enthusiast. Okay, that's out of the way, now... let's garden!
The early springtime prep you do to your garden is probably one of the most important steps of the whole growing year. So, here is what I do in 5 steps:
1) Clean Up & Clear Out The Dead:
Cut down old flower stocks and clear out heavily covered areas of dead leaves and plants. "Cut" being the key word for perennials. Do not yank out the dead of your perennials because you risk damaging the returning plant & roots.
If you compost, move as much of the dead as you can to your compost pile. Leave the rest in your garden as early spring frost protection for seedlings and perennials.
I also dump a bunch of dead into my vegetable garden that I will dig in before planting this year's vegetables.
2) Amend Your Soil (Again, I'm in Colorado where the ground is clay, not soil):
I buy several bags of; garden soil, peat moss, sheep or steer manure, and clay buster.
Using those bags, I scatter them throughout my flower beds and vegetable beds. Ideally, you should dig it all in. However, I don't want to risk cutting into established perennials so I simply scatter it on top of the flower beds and allow time, rain, worms, my weeding, and planting new flowers to work that new soil in.
In the vegetable garden, I fully dig in all of the new soil just before planting.
3) Map out your vegetable garden and new additions before buying:
I wouldn't just start buying, rather, have a plan. I draw mine up in late winter as something to look forward to during the cold and snowy months.
Don't plant the same things in the same spots every year. Crop rotation applies to smaller gardens too.
Consider sun and shade and how things grow. For instance, don't plant beets or carrots behind peas that will climb high and shade them. Do some positional planning.
I love to try new vegetables but mostly, I plant things I regularly buy at the grocery store. If you don't ever cook with eggplant, I wouldn't suggest planting any because it may end up going to waste and also wastes valuable garden space. However, if you're just dying to see how an eggplant grows, then by all means, plant it!
Vegetables/Herbs I grow directly outside from seeds:
Kale (Is a biennial but I find the 2nd year leaves to still be delicious)
Any and all vines; pumpkin, squash, zucchini, and cucumber
Parsley (Also a biennial, but I replant seeds every year)
Vegetables/Herbs I buy as plants:
Basil (I like a lot of Basil so I plant both seeds and plants)
Wait until after the last chance of frost (usually after Mother's Day in Colorado).
Follow seed packet directions closely.
Be sure to read plant tags before planting.
Cage tomatoes now.
Set the plants and seeds! Meaning, water everything in very thoroughly.
I find the very best mulch to be grass clippings. Once your plants are in, mulch around their bases. (Never mulch with the first cuttings after you have treated your grass for weeds or with fertilizers).
And there you have it. This is simply what I do every April and May and so far it has mostly been a success.
Be flexible, have fun, and most of all... enjoy the process and don't take any of it too seriously. As you can see, the very best gardeners don't ;)
All photography by Jessie Alice Smith