Spring Garden Plants - What to Plant in Spring Garden

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Starting a new garden this year? Here’s how to prepare in time for spring.

spring gardenErda Estremera https://unsplash.com/photos/0ZxdAGG4aWU

Mid-winter is the perfect time to plan a spring garden. Although spring seems far away, you can do a lot now to make your job easier come March. 

This guide explains how to select plants and prepare your soil for the busy season ahead. It ends with a list of spring-flowering plants you can sow in January or February.  

Planning a spring garden

If you’re starting from scratch, the most exciting aspect of garden planning is choosing which plants to grow. But with the spectacular range on the market, how do you narrow your choice? 

How to select plants for your garden: Orientation and climate

A lot of gardening success is down to selecting plants which are (that are) appropriate for your site’s environmental conditions. 

Your plant selection should be guided by your garden’s orientation and regional climate. This applies whether you are planting a potted garden on your balcony or a large vegetable patch. Once you have identified these, draw up a list of potentially suitable plants. 

The easiest way to determine your local climate is to refer to the USDA’s hardiness zone map. The map divides the country into sections based on their regional rainfall, frost, and average temperatures. 

Armed your with your   hardiness zone, you can search for plants and vegetables that will thrive in it. Remember that some local geographical features can create microclimates within zones. If you’re near the sea, consider plants that adapt well to salty air and high winds. 

The garden orientation (whether it faces north, east, south or ,or west) also matters. This will determine many hours of sunlight your plants will receive. Gardens facing the south will receive the maximum possible number of sunlight hours, while those that face north will receive the least. Adjust your plant choices accordingly, depending on whether they enjoy full sun, partial sun, partial shade, or shade. 

How to select plants for your garden: soil type

Once you’ve found potential plants suitable for your orientation and climate, narrow the list further by considering soil type. 

Many plants are not tolerant of a wide range of soil types, so matching species with the soil you have can really make or break your garden. 

First, determine the kind of soil your plot has. Below are the main soil types, though they are often found in mixed form. 

  • Clay
clayKrish Dulal https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?search=clay+soil+krish+dulal&title=Special:Search&profile=advanced&fulltext=1&advancedSearch-current=%7B%7D&ns0=1&ns6=1&ns12=1&ns14=1&ns100=1&ns106=1#/media/File:Clay_Soil.jpg

Clay soils retain the most moisture. The particles are very flat in structure and can store water on both their inside and their outside. It also retains minerals very well. 

Spring flowering plants for clay soil are pulmonaria, Indian Pink (Dianthus chinensis), geum, and hepatica 

Clay-loving vegetables to plant in late winter are broccoli, summer cauliflower. 

  • Sandy
sandy soilRyan Mascarenhas https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sandy_soil.jpg

Sandy soils have the largest particles and the fewest minerals. They retain heat but not moisture so you may need to water them  more regularly. Low in minerals and high in pockets of air, sandy soil suits succulents and drought-loving plants like lavender. When added to more moisture-retaining soils like clay, it will make it drain more quickly. 

Spring flowering plants that tolerate light sandy soil are Bergenia, Clematis, Lathyrus, Vernus, Sorbus lathyrus vernus, sorbus aria.

Vegetables that tolerate sandy soil are onions, potatoes, radishes, parsnips, beet, and aromatic herbs.

  • Silt
siltNastassja Noell https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special:Search&limit=20&offset=20&profile=default&search=silty+soil+filetype%3Abitmap&advancedSearch-current={"fields":{"filetype":"bitmap"}}&ns0=1&ns6=1&ns12=1&ns14=1&ns100=1&ns106=1#/media/File:2012-11-17_Psora_crenata_(Taylor)_Reinke_283430.jpg

Similar to clay, silt is a moisture-retaining, mineral-based soil made of the finest particles, generally from feldspar rock. They are ideal for vegetable crops, though it needs added manure and compost to encourage microbes and animals. Plants for silt are lettuce, onion, and broccoli. Spring flowering plants for silty soil are Helleborus and geranium 

  • Loam
loam soilAlan Murray-Rust, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lancashire_Loam_-_geograph.org.uk_-_999357.jpg

Loams are fertile soils made up of sand, silt, and clay in a 2:2:1 ratio plus 5 per cent  Percent decayed organic matter such as leaves. Vegetables for loamy soil include peppers, green beans, cucumber, onions, and lettuce. Spring-flowering plants for loamy soil include dog-tooth violet, snowdrops, and lemon bee balm. 

  • Peat
peat mossManoj Karingamadathil https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leaf_in_organic_rich_peat-like_deposit_of_Kole_Wetlands.jpg

This is the heaviest and richest organic soil, made of compressed and decayed organic matter, mainly moss. As it is acidic, it is perfect for rhododendrons, azaleas, and camellia. Vegetables that grow in peaty soils are brassicas, legumes, root crops, and salads.

  • Chalk 

chalk

This mineral soil has a low pH, meaning that it is very alkaline. You cannot grow acid-loving Rhododendron, Magnolia, Camelia, or rock garden plants in this soil. However, chalk is ideal for many cherry varieties, spinach beet, sweetcorn, and cabbages.

Altering soil type and quality 

Altering soil                                   Dave Lowe https://unsplash.com/photos/URrHCgHeJ9Q

Unlike climate and orientation, you can alter soil type and quality to some degree. 

For example, you can increase the fertility of sandy soil by adding organic soils like manure or compost. The best organic manure is horse dung, which you can often get for free from stables or farms. See the section below  (‘preparing your soil: digging and manuring’) for how to mix soil types.

If your plot contains a lot of stones, rubble, and weeds, you should dig the soil (see the section below ‘preparing your soil: digging and manuring’) with a lot of organic soils, removing weeds as you go. Then, sow the plot with grass seeds to create a temporary lawn. Leave the lawn for one whole season. The grassroots will help soil fertility. After one season, dig and manure the land again, overturning the grass while digging to prevent them from growing back. Now, you should have a viable plot. 

Another alternative for very poor soil is to build a raised bed that you can fill with quality soil from the start. A raised bed will be shallower, so more maintenance will be needed because your plants will exhaust the nutrients more quickly. 

January and February prep for a spring garden

Now that you have a list of suitable plants, it’s time to start gardening.

Preparing your soil: Digging and manuring 

mannuringMarkus Spiske https://unsplash.com/photos/FwW5fhFKM6k

Digging and manuring your plot is essential winter work for a spring garden. You should do this every year. 

Preparing your soil in January leaves enough time for nature to work its her magic before you plant. Alternate periods of frost and moisture between now and spring will break down the soil, making it finer, more even, and aerated. It also encourages earthworms, which will increase soil fertility. 

You should dig your plot in strips.  

Start by digging a narrow trench along one edge of your plot. The trench should be as deep as the length of the spade’s blade. Place compost or manure evenly along the bottom of the trench, to a layer of 6 cm. 

Now, shovel the neighboring, undug soil into your manured trench to fill it again.

This will leave you with a new trench running next to your first trench. Fill this new trench with manure then bury it with the neighboring undug soil as before. 

Keep doing this until you’ve covered the whole plot. 

You can use this technique to alter the quality and type of soil in your garden. Adjust the soil you are lining the trenches with as required.

Liming

If needed, you can now add lime to your soil. Adding lime increases alkaline levels, counteracting the acidifying effects that rainfall has on soil over time. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the packaging. 

To check whether you need to add lime, see what pH your preferred plants or vegetables enjoy. Then you can order a soil pH test kit.

Spread the lime over the soil on a still day because the fine dust particles can blow away. Rake the lime into the soil to a depth of 2 inches. 

Order and germinate seeds

seedsJoshua Lanzarini https://unsplash.com/photos/Vct0oBHNmv4

If you’re growing flowering plants for your spring garden from seed, start early. Some can be planted inside as early as January and February while it’s still too frosty for outdoor planting. Check specific requirements for each plant – some need to be sown at a specific time before the last frost. 

If you live in warmer zones (zones 8-12), some spring flowers can be sown directly outside in January including calendula, impatiens, and larkspur.

Some spring-flowering plants are difficult to grow from seed. The pansy is one example. In this case, wait until spring to buy ready-grown plants from the garden center. 

Provide seeds with enough sunlight and warmth indoors, such as by a bright window near a heater. Temperature ranges for healthy germination vary between species but most will do well at 20 degrees Celsius.

While the seeds germinate indoors, mark out your garden plot with string and wooden stakes. Your garden is now ready for plants.

When to transfer seedlings outside will depend on the plant. Usually, you should wait until at least the danger of frost has completely passed. You can check final frost dates for your area online.

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