What better way to brighten your day while the snow flies outside and the cold penetrates your bones than to think about your spring garden. Healthy soil is the basis of healthy plants and a healthy garden environment. Feed the soil and the soil will feed your plants. When garden soil is in good shape there is less need for fertilizers or pesticides. The soil should be loose and fluffy, filled with air that plant roots need, and have plenty of minerals essential for vigorous plant growth. It should drain well (water should not stand on top after rain) and contain plenty of organic matter. Good garden soil will deliver the right mixture of air, water, and nutrients to grow a large root system and strong, productive plants. It is alive with living organisms, from earthworms to fungi and bacteria, that help maintain the quality of the soil.

Once the frost has lifted and the soil is workable, start preparing your garden beds. In winter, soil tends to become compacted, so the first thing you want to do is loosen it up by tilling or turning it using a tiller or a sharp spade. Any mulch or leaf litter that is well-composted should be mixed right in, but if it is too fresh, you should remove it first.

Soil testing is an important tool for growing healthy lawns and gardens. To get reliable results and appropriate fertilizer and amendment recommendations, it is important that you submit a representative soil sample from your lawn or garden. Once the soil test is conducted and the results are available, the ability to interpret the results and follow the recommendations is an important consideration in correcting any deficiency or imbalance. Soil test kits can be obtained from the U of I Extension Master Gardener office in Woodstock.

You should also take this opportunity to replenish your supplies. Make sure you have enough fertilizer and soil amendments on hand. Replenish your supply of plant supports and pre-assemble any structures like tomato cages. This is also a great time to acquire new and replacement garden tools. By Steve and Cindy DeBerg Master Gardeners Healthy Soil, Healthy Plants P

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