With the hard work of tillage behind us, we are just about ready to brighten our gardens with a variety of our favorite plants.  Ones that will surely make our leisurely and relaxed summer evenings so very enjoyable!  But there are a few last steps to complete to get our soil in tip-top shape.

First, if you haven’t done so already, this is a perfect time to test your soil.  A soil test is a great way to get a current “picture” of the nutrient status of your soil and apply any recommended amendments or fertilizers that will help bring it into nutrient balance.   Soil testing takes the guesswork out of fertilizer use and prevents the potential buildup of nutrient excesses that can delay or set-back soil nutrient balance for years.

Any fertilizers recommended on the soil test report can be applied at the same time you incorporate compost into the soil.  Spread compost on the soil surface, then sprinkle fertilizer on top of the compost.  Spreading the compost first will help you see how evenly distributed the fertilizer is within your planting beds.  An even distribution is a must!

Once everything is spread on the soil surface, take a spade fork and work the compost and fertilizer into the soil to a depth of 4-6 inches – maybe a bit deeper if your soil is predominately a sandy texture.  Then, wait about a week or so and you’re ready to plant.  If you’re applying high calcium limestone or elemental sulfur, you may wish to wait longer to allow them sufficient time to react with the soil.

Once the plants are in and the soil is warm, mulch can be spread onto the soil surface to a depth of one-half to a few inches.  For those of you who are new to gardening, mulch is a covering spread on the soil surface around plants to protect the soil from erosion, temperature extremes, and reduce evaporation and the need to frequently water, weed, and cultivate.  It also shelters the soil surface from the direct impact of heavy rainfall and watering, thus doing its part to maintain good soil structure.  And, it attracts earthworms that naturally aerate the soil.