Gardening & Living in Grand Style
Warming temps turn thoughts toward gardening preparations for spring
by Michael Johnson
Feb 07, 2013 | 1292 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It was nice having the warmer temperatures the last week in January. The snow started melting and putting that moisture into the soil and also began melting off the roads, which made a lot of people happy. Also, the rain we received over that last weekend was a big help. I recorded just under three-fourths of an inch over two days.

All of this seems to have started people thinking about gardening, and the calls and office visits have picked up. As with most years, I find many of these early questions revolving around the basics of gardening. Two of those basics involve proper soil preparation and the addition of organic matter. These are key points to consider when getting into the gardening spirit, and they have a great impact on how successful you will be.

Soil preparation

Proper soil preparation is the single most important way to achieve improved or maximum growth of plant materials. One of the reasons for this is that by properly working the soil – either tilling or using a shovel or hoe – you are relieving compaction that has taken place. Compaction happens when the air in the pores between the grains of soil is forced out. That occurs most often due to pressure on the soil, but it can also be due to a lack of water in the soil, whether from the reduction in pore space, transpiration, or evaporation.

When the soil is compacted it’s more difficult for plant roots to properly spread out in the way nature and the plant’s physiology intended. Also, moisture is less able to penetrate into the soil. Compaction can happen in any type of soil including sandy soils, and can be caused by simply walking on the soil on a regular basis.

Organic material

Another component of proper soil preparation and gardening is the adding of organic matter. The addition of organic matter improves soil structure, increases water infiltration and the soils ability to hold water while also improving the tilth, or ease of working the soil. Organic matter also holds nutrients and can release those nutrients into the soil, making them available as plants are growing.

By adding organic matter it can be said, “they will come,” meaning a host of microorganisms, earthworms and other useful organisms that bring a soil to life and make it productive.

The adding of organic matter is something that needs to be done on a regular basis. Heat, water and the actual working of the soil all contribute to the breakdown of organic matter. As such, if you want to keep a higher level of organic material in your soil you need to be adding material on a regular basis.

Planning garden spots

One last point concerns the best way to develop or manage your garden area. Should you till or work the entire garden area, use raised beds or just dig a hole for each plant you are growing? Ultimately with the right soil preparation, correct nutrients and correct watering, any of these ways can work and it becomes more of a personal choice. However, from what I have seen over the years it’s probably better to work the whole area or use raised beds rather than digging and amending individual holes. This is largely because the holes could restrict root growth, thus limiting the growth of a plant and its productivity. With a wider working of the soil you aren’t as likely to see that type of problem. Of course, ultimately, don’t be afraid to experiment, since you should find what works best for you.

Thought for the day: “One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides.” —W.E. Johns

For more information about these topics call the Utah State University Extension Grand County office at 259-7558 or email Mike Johnson at

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