Learn my top nine spring gardening tips for a slow and stress free start to the garden season. Almost all of these things are things you can do before your last frost date. This is my lazy gardener’s guide to waking up your garden efficiently and in the least backbreaking way you can.
Gardeners have a lot to do in the spring time before we can ever get to sticking any plants in the ground. If you don’t take your time and spread out the jobs, and do them in the right order, you will quickly become overwhelmed and stressed.
Busy Spring Garden Prep
Don’t let your spring garden preparation be a mad rush that you try to do in one weekend. You won’t enjoy it and let’s face it, you have been waiting all winter to get to planting so why not enjoy it.
Avoid preparing the garden for planting in the wrong order where you have to re-do tasks or make other tasks way harder than they need to be.
We will start right from the beginning and work our way in order for efficiency.
#1 Broad Fork
A beautifully prepared garden bed ready for planting might be the most gorgeous site to a gardener in the springtime. It’s no small task getting garden beds ready though. From breaking up the soil, to supplying nutrients, ensuring the soil allows deep water penetration, and having a nice smooth surface to sow your seeds into.
Easy Soil Preparation
My first and my favourite tool is my broad fork. This is my third or fourth season using it consistently to break up the soil in the springtime. The best part is how easy it makes the job of working the soil. This was a very important requirement of mine, as our old rototiller was anything but.
Modified No-Dig Garden
It has allowed me to gently shift my garden into more of a no dig modified and modified no dig garden.
So there are a lot of trees in my growing space. I need to try and bust up the competition of the neighbouring roots that constantly infiltrate my garden beds. That is the main reason I’ll probably never go fully no dig in this garden.
Now, why is a broad fork such a great tool?
The tines range anywhere from 12 to 16 inches long. It means that you get down really, really far into your soil. Things like carrots, absolutely love being planted behind a broad fork.
How Does A Broad Fork Work?
It’s very different from a broad fork. The tines are longer. The handles are as tall as I am. It is designed to use your body weight efficiently. There is very little bending involved. You just literally step onto it to push it down in the soil. Then lean back using the long handle to open up the soil.
The long tines incorporated with the use of your body weight make it a great tool to break up slightly frozen soil in early spring. They are pretty heavy duty and can stand up to the work in moderation (we have bent the tines on ours but only mildly). This is a great way to warm up the soil for planting of early cold season crops.
Healthier Soil Microbiome
By not rototilling your garden you’re not flipping your soil end for end. This allows the microbial layers to go undisturbed which progresses yours soils health and ability to unlock nutrients for your plants. The broad fork creates aeration, easier root penetration, more moisture penetration and oxygen in the root zone.
By not turning the soil layers over you are not inviting new weed seeds up onto the top surface of the soil to reach sunlight.
#2 Top Dress Garden Bed With Compost
Wake Up Your Compost Bin
Start trying to warm up and break up your compost as early as you can to allow lots of time to use it around your garden. I leave the lid open, add water, even a black tarp to try and get it warmed up as much as I possibly can.
Compost As Mulch
When using compost as mulch on top of your garden bed aim for about 3”. The thicker you can layer it the better you will be able to further smother weed seeds. I used one full 3’x3’x3’ compost bin to cover all of my beds and had some left over to use in my containers.
That is quite a bit of compost and not generally doable without at least a few compost bins on the go in the summer to then combine into one in the fall. If you don’t have that much available to you, reach out to sort of your local landscape supply companies, get it ordered and book your delivery. The sooner you can get it booked the more likely you will not have to wait. Those companies get very busy in the spring time and you don’t want to end up behind schedule or miss out on adding compost to your garden.
Take Your Time
Top dressing your whole garden with compost is a fair bit of work. Spread out the job over a few days or even a few weekends. Don’t overestimate what you can do (or want to do) in a day.
By top dressing with compost as a mulch layer you further suppress any weeds that are in the seed bank waiting to sprout.
Preparing A Good Seed Bed
It makes for a nice surface to direct seed into. It is soft, fluffy and holds lots of moisture. This means better success with seed germination. It ticks all of the boxes when it comes to preparing a nice garden bed.
#3 Drip Irrigation
Lay out your existing irrigation way ahead of time. Especially if your garden is a non-traditional and non-uniform design like mine. It will take time to put all the pieces in the right places (even when you label things correctly).
You may also need to plan out irrigation for a new garden bed you have planned. This takes time and thoughtfulness. You can check out my blog post How To Install A Drip Irrigation System For Vegetable Gardens In 5 Easy Steps for a full tutorial on how to design and build your new drip irrigation system.
You will discover pieces that have broken or are clogged and need to be replaced. You may also need to modify the design to accommodate a different planting plan this season. The past few seasons it has been quite the challenge finding irrigation parts and pieces with supply chain issues. It is best to make sure you have what you need well in advance or get it ordered.
Transplanting & Direct Sowing
You can most definitely hand water even all season long if that’s what you like to do, but I don’t, again, lazy gardener. I want my garden to be watered mostly on its own as much as possible.
Make sure that your irrigation is ready so that when direct seed or transplant it is there and ready to be turned on. Yes you can hand water but from one lazy gardener to another… let’s just let the irrigation system we paid good money for do the work.
You also do not want to risk laying out your irrigation AFTER you have direct sown seeds or transplanted seedlings. You will break off your starter plants or disturb the soil and move the seeds around. I have gotten overzealous many times and just started planting, then tried to get my irrigation laid out after. It was a huge pain and there were some casualties.
#4 Stale Weed Bed
A super simple and under utilized weeding technique is called a stale weed bed. You simply start watering your dirt at least 3 weeks ahead of when you want to start planting. The idea is to try to sprout as many weed seeds ahead of time as I possibly can.
Yes, you’re going to use extra water. If you’re on water rations, this may not be an option. It requires much less water than you would use to water in your transplants, as an example. All you need to do is get the top couple inches wet. You do not need to saturate the soil. That is all that is needed to sprout those surface weed seeds.
I have many self seeding plants throughout my garden. By watering and encouraging them to sprout ahead of time I can see where I may need to weed some out, or where I can scoop some up and transplant them elsewhere. You can also gift them away to a friend if you have too many.
It’s better to see what’s what, rather than having all of your calendula seeds pop up in the middle of all your carrots … your carrots will not be happy.
Better Planning & Weed Management
It just gives you a little bit more management, perspective and control over what’s going on in your garden over the season.
#5 Low Tunnel, Cold Frame & Season Extension
If you are going to add in things like low tunnels, a cold frame, any sort of season extension type tools, you need to prepare your soil ahead of time. Once you set up the low tunnel it will become incredibly difficult to work the soil, spread compost or lay out your irrigation.
Don’t skip preparing your soil before setting up your low tunnel. It will affect your plants for the whole season. Delay set-up of your season extension tool if you need more time but always have your soil prepped and ready first.
Garden Bed Preparation
This step can be done at various points in the season. You do need to allow anywhere from 4-8 weeks for it to do it’s work. Hotter temps = faster results. Solarization uses a thick plastic tarp to smother weeds and sterilize weed seeds.
If you want to use this prior to planting in the spring time it would be your very first step even before you broad fork. If you are, however, looking to develop a brand new area of the garden then this step can be done whenever you can.
What is Solarization?
You lay a big plastic sheet over your garden. Ideally, a silage tarp that does not let light or moisture penetrate. Make sure the soil is good and wet ahead of time. This will assist with the heat from the sun to sprout seeds and sterilize the top layer of soil. You do not want light to get through for best results. I do not have a silage tarp. I use just a vapour barrier which is clear. It works fairly well, just takes longer.
This style of silage tarp is the best to use for this method. Put the black side up.
For myself in the early spring I find I need about six weeks laying plastic over the garden bed. This can be a pretty big ask when the garden is still covered in snow. It does not always work at the start of my season for this reason.
#7 Custom Container Potting Soil
A big step is preparing your pots with fresh new soil or freshened up old soil. Either option requires some new ingredients and some mixing. You may also need to clean out your pots properly from last season.
This is a nice thing to have ready to go before your last frost date, before you buy plants or well before you are ready to transplant.
Custom Potting Soil
I prefer to mix my own custom soil blend based on what I know I need from my soil. Typically the soil I mix for pots is going to go in one of my hot, sunny, dry microclimates. This requires larger pots and a more moisture retentive soil.
Plants that typically like this kind of microclimate are also the ones that prefer lots of moisture and food. Tomatoes, squash, corn or anything in their respective families are good options.You will find that if you don’t accommodate their needs they will suffer badly and of course, not produce.
Custom Potting Soil Blend
An important note is that I do not worry about exact measurements. A lot of it I like to eyeball so these ratios are approximate.
- ⅓ bagged potting soil
- ⅓ composted tree mulch
- ⅓ compost or a combination of compost & vermicompost
*I do also like to add in some perlite or vermiculite if I have it on hand. No more than about 1 part perlite/vermiculite to 10 parts (above mixture)
I find this the most cost effective way to go. I purchase potting soil when it goes on sale in the offseason and stockpile it. I can source composted tree mulch close to home for free and I generate all of my own compost & vermicompost.
#8 Perennial Spring Garden Preparation
I usually save the work of perennials till the very end of all my garden bed preparation. and my Perennials can wait. It is recommended they are planted spring or fall but if you ended up planting them smack in the middle of the summer they would more than likely be just fine. Especially the really hardy zone 3 perennials. If you do plant them later than usual just be sure to give them a little bit of extra water to avoid drying out in the heat of the summer until they are well established.
Perennial Spring Clean-up
Wait as long as you possibly can to help out before you remove all the dead leaf litter from the previous season. This is prime habitat for beneficial insects and predator insects that help keep the unwanted insects at bay during the summer. They do not fully wake up until the temperature consistently reaches 10 – 15C.
If you enjoyed this essential spring gardening prep tutorial, then I think you’re really going to like my grow your own food. Now, in the gardening course, I have a very in-depth, full season of gardening support that you can access in my annual and perennial food gardening.
#9 Grow Your Own Food Now: Annual & Perennial Food Gardening Course
This is your detailed and thorough gardening instruction start at the beginning of the season, all the way through to the end of the season from seed starting indoors, transplanting, plant specific tips, bugs, weeds, maintenance, to preserving and putting away all that beautiful harvest that you grew so that you have it all the way through the winter.
Online course, there is a huge library of video tutorials that are super concise and bite size that you can dive in, get what you need and action it quickly in your garden.
Within the course, you have the added option to keep my services on standby all season long to ask for help and get your plant problems solved.
The course is full of my actual tools and practices that I have honed and refined over many seasons. I share with you exactly what I do in my own garden to garden in as big way as I possibly can in a slightly non-traditional way, but also gain a ton of food and ease throughout my season, rather than being overwhelmed and frustrated.
Enjoy that spring prep because it is such a special time of this season where we get to bring our gardens to life. When we are in a state of overwhelm and frustration rushing around “having to get it done”. We sometimes miss out on really enjoying those moments, enjoying your hands in the dirt. Take it as slow and easy as you can by spread it out.
If you have any questions or if you have any other spring prep tips that are absolutely essential in your garden, stick them into comments. I would love to know what makes your spring easier and faster, and you bring your to life your without a ton of extra effort.
Wishing you an abundant season,