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Down-to-earth garden work

There's a German folk song that goes: "In March the farmer yokes up his little horse". It teaches children about the seasons. Have you ever asked why the farmer does that in March?

Now your life experience and observations of nature and your garden are sure to have taught you the reason: Various factors come together in March. The longer days and warmer daytime temperatures, melted snow and drying soil, fresh blossom and the first seedlings are evident, along with growing bushes and rising sap in trees and bushes. All of this is due to complex interaction between light, temperature and moisture stimuli. Before it gets too academic: The farmer goes on his intuition. Because with nature, especially when you are dealing with plants, one thing is really important: Doing the right thing at the right time. And it all starts with one thing: Ground work!

What sort of soil cultivation is the best?

The answer, as is always the case in the garden, is simple: It depends! If the soil has not been weeded since autumn and is covered in garden rubbish or if there are the remains of autumn or winter vegetables on it, it first has to be cleared - either by removing everything or by digging it in. If you have carefully sown green manure into the beds for the winter, the same procedure applies. If, in contrast, your garden soil has spent the winter as a cleared, tidy area, it just needs harrowing in when March comes along. Areas that you now freshly dig over should first be exposed to the rain and you must wait 2 weeks for the soil to settle before harrowing. As soon as the soil has dried out a little after harrowing, level it with a large rake (e.g. a wooden rake), separate the remaining lumps of earth and smooth it all down with a fine pronged rake. Then the bed area is ready for sowing and planting.

Some important details to note

The "It depends" stated above naturally requires keeping an eye on the soil conditions. Thus, when caring for soil in spring, it is also advisable to make loamy or clay soils smoother using coarse sand. Depending on how solid the soil is, around 1 barrow (around 80 litres) of sand per two to five square metres of beds should do the trick. Conversely, you can replace the sand with loam if the soil is sandy.

Sandy or loamy soil - garden lime is an issue for both. Sandy soils frequently lack lime, which is why, in spring, you should add from around 50 g/m2 (to maintain the lime content) to 100 or even 150 g/m2 (to restore the lime content) of garden lime to it. Loamy soils may also need lime. In general, a soil analysis is required (about once every three years is enough) to provide sufficient clarity as to the nutritional condition of your garden soil, what needs to be fertilised, and where you are in danger of adding too much fertiliser. Garden soils often have too much phosphorus. A compound fertiliser which also adds it phosphorus can thus over-fertilise your soil and is literally a waste of money. Please also note that 100 g/m2 of lime can make your soil 1 point more alkali. You see: What you do or don't do when it comes to soil can change other parameters, whether you intend to do so or not. The soil is complex organism - it's not just particles of earth, it's a microcosm! And that is why soil is such an exciting topic. After all, what you do or don't do can either ruin your soil or provide exactly what your favourite plants need. 

And while we are talking about favourite plants: Overenthusiastic gardeners can also be seen, for example, prodding shrub beds and woody plants with garden implements in spring. Don't work for work's sake, just to "get it done". After all, you can do a lot of damage during ground work, especially to the roots of garden plants, in particular those with flat roots such as rhododendrons, currant bushes or dogwood etc. and also in the growing areas of grasses and shrubs which form offshoots such as prairie cordgrass or mint. This is where ground work can destroy roots which are near to the surface.