Preparing a garden bed requires just a little bit of foresight and planning. It is best done in the fall, although many gardeners would rather wait out the cold season and begin preparations in the spring. Springtime preparations still produce fine results (but beginning the process soon after the conclusion of harvesting is ideal).
The same preparations should be used for vegetables and ornamentals alike. Scott Evans, horticulture program coordinator at the Nebraska Extension, shares a few simple tips for preparing successful garden beds:
Removing the prior year’s vegetation creates a healthy garden bed, Evans says. Foliage and fruits left in or on the ground may provide wintering habitats for harmful diseases and insects that can carry into the spring. Evans says that removing debris is best done in the fall because it decreases the chances that pathogens and insects will overwinter in the garden. Springtime removal is important if foliage and debris is not removed in the fall.
Crop rotation is equally important, says Evans. Prepare the bed accordingly and plot out where all of the vegetables will go. Avoid placing vegetables from the same family in the same place year after year. Move them to a different location, “not just a couple of feet—tens of feet,” Evans says.
Planting the same family of vegetables in the same place year after year creates the potential for diseases and insects. For example, the squash vine borer overwinters in pupae in the soil. Relocating the plants out of their immediate reach mitigates some potential for insect problems.
Plants from the same family are not always easily distinguishable. This is due to years of domestication and selection.
“It’s pretty darn amazing,” he says. Tomatoes, potatoes, pepper, and eggplants all come from the same plant family. Mustards, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli also belong to the same plant family. Tomatoes and peppers should not be rotated in the same area of the garden due to their relationship. The same is true of Brussels sprouts and broccoli.
Although removing the prior year’s vegetation and rotating crops are essential preparatory steps, there are a few other tricks that can further improve yields. Tilling and spading the soil facilitates root growth.
“Don’t do any tilling or spading when the soil is wet. It can compact the soil,” Evans says, adding that working damp-to-dry soil is OK. Working compost into the top 6 inches of soil also improves it, he says.
Evans recommends staking plants such as tomatoes shortly after planting to avoid disturbing them later when they are large and unwieldy.
He advises planting plants with specific sunlight requirements according to their needs. For example, tomatoes need full all-day sun. Other plants thrive in partial sunlight. Inappropriate light conditions can be a source of disappointment for gardeners.
Keep a gardening journal and write down what does well in particular gardening conditions, he suggests.
Evans suggests old newspapers as an inexpensive option for mulch (spread in flat sheets) over the soil. Mulch is a protective layer that reduces evaporation, maintains even soil temperature, prevents erosion, controls weeds, and helps to keep produce clean.
Also, Evans warns, don’t forget to use a fence to keep out rabbits.
Preparing a garden bed is often the most labor-intensive part of gardening. With just a few simple steps, one can truly maximize a garden’s potential yield. After preparation and planting comes the most time-consuming (and rewarding) part of the process: watching the garden grow—this is best done with a cool drink in hand and an empty mind.
Visit extension.unl.edu for more information.
This article was printed in the March/April 2019 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.