Preparing your Soil for Planting

The unusually warm weather this winter has ramped up the excitement for the 2017 garden season. With high temperatures reaching nearly 80 degrees in February, it’s hard for a gardener to contain his/her enthusiasm and avoid hooking up the plow or reaching for the hoe. However, getting too eager and planting too early can be detrimental to your harvest.
Proper planning is critical to your garden’s success and must take place prior to planting. Gardeners should consider location, fertility, crop rotation, pest control, weed management, and how much time, money, and resources they want to invest in the garden, among many other things.
Right now, if they haven’t already done so for early crops, many gardeners are waiting (im)patiently to start preparing their soil for planting.
After planning your garden site, the first step in preparing your soil should be collecting a soil sample. Collect a sample from the site, whether no-till or conventional tillage, and take it to your county extension office for analysis to ensure appropriate fertility. Ideally, the sample should be taken in October or November for the best results (and amendments made for lime and sulfur to adjust pH), but improvements can be made to the soil based on the results of the soil test report at any time prior to planting. Dr. Shubin Saha, UK Extension Horticulture Specialist, produced a great video about soil testing for vegetable production and it is available for viewing here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9PXgNBD7gM
Forgoing a soil test, and guessing at the rate of amendments, usually does not work out in the gardener’s favor. More often than not, gardeners use more of any given nutrient than what is actually required. Pouring on unnecessary nutrients actually just drains your wallet, so use only what is needed. Using more fertilizer than what is required does not mean that it will be there later or next year—what goes unused likely leaches out into our nearby streams causing inadvertent problems in our waterways.
Although the warmer weather patterns have made us all eager to get in the garden, wait until the soil temperature increases and the frost date has passed to plant warm-season crops. It can be tempting to do it now in hopes of an early harvest, especially if you have already started your own seeds, but one freeze in early spring is all it takes to wipe out an entire planting.

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