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garden tips(ARA) - With spring fast approaching, it's time to decide what you would like to do with your garden. Seed catalogs conjure visions of beautiful bouquets around your home, their sweet fragrances permeating every room. Your appetite is whetted for meals prepared with homegrown vegetables. But how can you best prepare that plot of soil behind your house to help make your garden grow?

Remove Debris

If you didn't remove all the debris from your garden last fall, you must clear out the old leaves and stems before you plant. This is the single-most effective pest control measure you can take for your garden. Insect eggs or disease spores from last year's growth can infect your new crop.

Loosen Soil

After you have removed the debris, use a shovel to break up clods of dirt and loosen the soil to the rooting depth of your plants. You want to create a uniform, porous seedbed for seeds and seedlings. Any plants that root below 5 or 6 inches are capable of penetrating most soils.

If your garden plot has packed clay or sandy soil, till in organic matter such as peat, composted leaves or lawn clippings and work them into the soil as deeply as you can. This will form a soil structure that allows roots to breathe and grow. It will also help retain vital moisture and nutrients. Do not use lawn clippings for this if you have treated your lawn with a weed killer or insecticide. Residual chemicals on the clippings can damage garden plants or make vegetables unsafe to eat. After all, leaving clippings on the lawn recycles nutrients back to grass plants, improving your lawn's health and beauty.


Melinda Myers, host of "Great Lakes Gardener" public television show and author of several gardening books, advises gardeners to always use a fertilizer that is gentle on both plants and the environment.

"Use a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer that provides plants with small amounts of nutrients over a long period of time," notes Myers. "This slow release nitrogen goes directly to the plants and not into groundwater. It's friendly to the environment and allows plants to use all the nutrients you apply. It also promotes even growth, discouraging insect and disease problems."

Slow-release nitrogen fertilizer reduces the risk of damage to plants and the environment in the event it's misapplied or overused. An organic-based nitrogen fertilizer, such as Milorganite GardenCare 6-2-0, is ideal for helping build soil while fertilizing. Information on fertilizing various types of garden plants can be found at

Seeding and Planting

It's exciting to watch plants grow from a tiny seed. If you plant seeds, follow the package directions. Directions will vary for each kind of seed you plant. Be careful! The most common planting mistake is planting too deep. This results in poor germination. Water gently, keeping seeds moist until they germinate. Follow specific watering instructions for each kind of seed you plant.

Plant seedlings as deep as they were in their holder. You can see the soil level on the stem. Keep their roots vertical by making sure your hole is deep enough. If your soil is dry, fill the hole half full of water before you place the seedling in it. Firmly pack soil around it. Gently water over the top of planted seedlings. Keep them moist for a week or so, depending on your local weather conditions.

When to Fertilize

In general, fertilize when you first seed or transplant. This encourages early root and plant growth. Fertilize again when plants begin to flower or display leaf growth that will mature for harvest. For full-season plants, fertilize a third time in mid- to late summer. Potatoes, tomatoes and similar plants especially benefit from this third application.

If you have any doubts as to what kind of fertilizer to use or how much to apply, or if you would like your soil analyzed for nutrients, contact your local county horticultural extension agent.

Those Darned Pests

Insects, weeds and disease can present problems to a healthy garden. Mike Archer, master gardener and research coordinator for Milorganite, recommends using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for pest control. IPM is a low-cost, low-impact means for controlling harmful pests.

IPM encourages the use of natural pesticides as a friendly method of pest control. "Using commercial pesticides should be limited to times when the damage is beyond using natural methods," says Archer.

"In many cases, treating a garden with pesticides kills off beneficial insect species that keep problem species under control," says Archer. "Learn to identify these helpful insects, so you don't kill off friends of your garden."

Other methods of environmentally sound pest control include hoeing weeds; staking tall plants so fruit does not touch the ground; providing garden ventilation to minimize incidence of disease; and trickling water on the soil, not on foliage, when watering on sunny days so leaves don't scald.

Have Fun

There's no doubt about it; gardening can be hard work. But if you follow these simple tips, your garden will prosper and your experience will be a positive one.

For more information on successful gardening, visit

Courtesy of ARA Content

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