What you need to do to prepare your garden for a new growing season

A great garden still requires a lot of preparation and maintenance to develop. Before you begin planting in the new season, here’s a checklist of the 8 steps you should take to prepare your garden for a successful season:

  1. You’d be surprised how much more efficient and yes, even joyful it is to garden with clean, well oiled and sharpened garden implements. So take the time to clean and oil your tools and sharpen your blades. It won’t take much time if you make a habit of it. Simply clean and oil them after every use and you’ll be fine. Oh, one more thing: clean the blades you use for cutting, pruning and grafting with alcohol every time you use them. This will ensure that you won’t inadvertently transfer disease from one plant to the next.
  2. Ensure that you have enough supplies to start the season: compost, stakes, wires, tomato cages, trellises, etc. This will save you from scrambling at the last minute to get them. With a little bit of planning (you do do that, right?) you will know what you’re going to grow where. So use that to make your shopping list of these necessary support items. 
  3. In Bahrain particularly because of our hot weather, everything grows at an accelerated rate. Including weeds! Take the time to clean up your beds of weeds, mulch if you use it, rocks and other debris. Take this opportunity to remove and dispose of non-beneficial bugs that you will find under the mulch or around the plants. Another thing to be careful with is when you turn the earth in your beds, do so with the knowledge that you will be unearthing weed seeds so it’s a good idea to leave that tilled bed for a few days and then remove any growing weeds.
  4. Prune your shrubs and trees The gold rule of pruning is to do that necessary operation when the plants are dormant rather than when they are experiencing growth. Normally our plants in Bahrain slow down in winter – around December to February so it’s a good idea to prune them then rather than at the beginning of the season. But you might say that your trees and shrubs have become huge… well, if you had pruned them in the winter months you shouldn’t have too much to do in that department. If you’ve left them to their own devices; however, well, prune only if you have to and as the plant requires. For instance, figs can be severely cut back but other fruiting trees might object. So do your research before you reach for those secateurs. While we’re on the subject of pruning, keep the following in mind too:
    1. Sterilise your blades before cutting with isopropyl alcohol (not rubbing alcohol, that one is different).
    2. Whenever you prune your plants, it is a good practice to add a little fertiliser to the soil to ensure that the plant has the nutrients on hand to heal its wounds quickly.
  5. Till the soil, turn it to a depth of 30 – 40cm and keep in mind that as well as aerating and preparing the bed for planting, you will most probably also disturb and unearth some weed seeds. It’s a good idea to wait for a few days once the tilling is done in order to give the weeds a chance to grow and pull those out. This is a bit easier with a cleaned up area rather than digging them out in between new shoots.
  6. Please do NOT add compost, manure, soil amendments and bags of NPK before you test your soil. At the very least check its pH value so you would be in the know. Then, only add amendments as prescribed. For instance, I’ve seen many a garden covered in manure – bags and bags of it, and some being close to raw. This will only leech ammonia into your soil and burn your tender roots. My own personal experience suggests that you will need only 1kg of composted manure per square metre. Yes, you read that right. Just that amount. Then I would add a 3 – 5cm layer of compost and either leave it for the bugs and worms to work it into the soil, or you mix it within the top 30 to 40cm. There is nothing like fresh compost that will help your garden and amend it properly. For goodness sake, don’t just throw in bags of gypsum without knowing what you’re doing! Gypsum has gained myth-like prowess in gardens in Bahrain because it’s supposed to correct the salinity of the soil. This might be true, but only when you have tested your soil and when you use the correct quantity. Like anything in life, too much of even a good thing is bad!
    1. Soil amendments – the best pH level of garden soil to grow vegetables, ornamental plants and grasses is between 5.8 – 6.5. This range is slightly acidic. What amendments to use if your soil is above and below that? Here’s the skinny:
      1. First check the soil pH. If > 8 it’s very alkaline, if < 5 it’s very acidic
      2. Lime: Raises the pH of acidic soil. Only use if recommended by a soil test.
      3. Sulphur: Lowers the pH of alkaline soil. Only use if recommended by a soil test.
      4. Wood ash: serves as a source of potassium and calcium carbonate, the latter acting as a liming agent to neutralise acidic soils. Only use if recommended by a soil test.
  7. Once you’ve raked your soil amendments in, water the area lightly to get rid of air pockets and to give the beneficial bugs a good start in the freshly laid soil. 
  8. Some perennial plants including bulbs tend to crowd each other out, reducing their performance in subsequent seasons. It’s best to dig them out carefully. Dig around the clump and tease out the roots carefully, then plant them immediately with good spacing between them – or even give a few to your friends and family if you find that you’ve run out of space. Spacing perennials and bulbs will do wonders to that bed and you’ll enjoy them better,
  9. Here’s a bonus one: We don’t often use mulch in Bahrain but I think we ought to as mulch will protect the topsoil from the searing heat of the sun rays, keep the grown cooler and protect the plants. There are many types of mulch you can use, one is wood chips. You can pick up sacks of wood chips  from the many carpenters for very reasonable prices. Though there is a gotcha that you need to be aware of, get chips of untreated wood because you really don’t want to water that area and get chemicals to seep down into your garden and poison it. The other type of mulch that is easily available from the larger traders and nurseries is cleaned bark. That works very well and it disintegrates easily so it’s better for the environment. Whatever mulch you decide to use, please make sure that it stays away from the plant stems; clear out a circle of about 5cm from around the plant. This will prevent the area becoming waterlogged and encourage root and stem rot.






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