Fertilize the soil for better garden beds

IMG_7388The white trillium I rediscovered in my garden.

By JoAnn Alberstat

A funny thing happened while I was cleaning up my shade bed recently: I discovered a plant that I had forgotten was there.

It was a single white trillium tucked in among the early hostas and astilbes. I had bought a purple trillium at the same time a couple of years ago and it quickly died. That’s why I assumed the white one hadn’t survived either.

Delightful moments like this inject some fun into the chore of spring cleanup.

Once beds are cleaned up, with dead branches and leaves removed, the next order of business is fertilizing the soil, a process known as top dressing. I use composted sheep or cow manure, which I buy in 15-kilogram bags at my neighbourhood building supply store.

You can also have compost (and mulch) delivered to your door, although bear in mind this isn’t a great money saver because of the cost of fuel. I have used this method in the past and find it’s not difficult to find high-quality compost (not smelly) and reliable service.

The advantage of bulk delivery is you can quickly get a large amount at one time (up to four cubic feet). Some companies have a divided truck bed so you can get two different products (garden soil for making new beds, compost for top dressing or mulch for keeping down weeds). A disadvantage is that the load gets dumped in your driveway, which blocks access unless you’ve got a crew to help you spread the dirt and mulch quickly, or you’re sharing with an equally gardening-keen neighbour.

Leopard’s bane and pink tulips, a favourite colour combination in my spring garden.

Since neither is the case for me, I prefer to pick up five or six bags of compost every couple of weeks. (I’ll do the same with mulch later in the season.)

I shovel the compost on top of my beds and around trees, shrubs and perennials to add nutrients to the soil (called “soil amendment”). Try to avoid getting compost on top of tree or plant roots, since it could burn them. I spread the aged manure on thinly – a shovelful per spot is fine. You can go thicker with the mulch.

Speaking of weeds, spring cleanup also involves a fair bit of pulling out pesky unwanted greenery, digging dandelions and removing plants that have seeded or spread at random. Ladies mantle, violas, forget-me-nots and bluets are just a few of the culprits in this category in my garden.

Although I could spend all day just removing dandelions from my front lawn, now is also the time to fertilize trees and rose bushes. Be sure to stop and admire the tulips and other spring-flowering bulbs before they fade away completely.

I’m also getting ready to plant my veggie seedlings later this week. Our spring has been wet and cold, but the risk of frost should have passed by this Friday’s full moon (June 9).

You may recall I started my tomato plants indoors from seed in mid-April. The seedlings are a good size now, having spent the last few weeks in my backyard greenhouse during the day. This week, they graduated to being left outside overnight to start hardening them off for planting.

IMG_7374Another May-June garden highlight – purple tulips and pieris in the front yard.

What activities are underway in your spring garden? Let me know what discoveries you’ve made in your plant patch, or at the gardening centre.

Once the top dressing is done and my veggies are planted, my focus with shift to container gardening. The garden centres are full of fabulous florals these days, and I can’t wait to fill my pots with them.

JoAnn Alberstat is a communications professional and avid amateur gardener in Nova Scotia, Canada.



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