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Garden prep 101: Getting ready for season
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Outside birds are singing and bits of green are popping up all around. As seasons change from winter to spring, the gardener’s mind quickly leaps to growing flowers and produce. Before getting out there and planting, follow these basic garden preparations to get the most out of this growing season.

Scotts Miracle-Gro gardening expert Ashton Ritchie strongly recommends that every gardener keep a “garden journal.” “My wife and I keep a garden journal so we know what we planted, when we planted and harvested, what problems we had to treat, what we used and how well it worked,” he says. “We start each growing season by reviewing last year’s journal.”

In fact, many successful gardeners, like Ashton, take notes or keep journals. It can be as easy as taping seed packets into a small notebook or sketching out where the tulip bulbs are planted. Keeping track of gardening experiences can simplify the gardening process, and will be an invaluable reference in the future.

Garden design
Whether planting a new garden or bringing life to an old one -- a smart design is key. Light, water and space requirements vary from plant to plant - and region to region. Therefore, a well designed lay-out for a garden can make the difference between a bountiful harvest and withering leaves.

From fancy landscaping software programs to simple charcoal sketches, creating a garden layout is a great way to plan the optimal design. A few measurements of the space and observations of the amount of sunlight or moisture will prove helpful in the planning process. Consider what the garden will look like from all angles to maximize enjoyment. In addition, seed packets, garden books, potting labels and nursery experts are always great resources on a plant’s growing requirements.

Plant selection
Varieties of plants available in today’s market are virtually endless. That is why seed catalogs are a priceless tool for any gardener. Leafing through these resources can make plant selection easy and fun. With a garden design and journal from last year in hand, it will be a cinch to narrow down the choices for this year’s garden. A successful gardener doesn’t have to grow all their plants from seed. Most nurseries offer a wide range of small herbs, vegetables, fruits and flowers to transplant directly into the garden. However, starting plants from seed does provide more variety, is usually less expensive and can grow plants that are more disease resistant. Selecting plants native to your region attracts wildlife and makes your garden a living visual experience.

Soil amendment
Native soils and top-soils are not all created equal. Most will need a little boost to become fertile garden soil. A 3-inch layer of high-quality garden soil, such as Miracle-Gro Organic Choice Garden Soil, can be tilled into native soil to improve existing soil, add organic matter and help plants build strong roots.

Amending soil will allow gardeners to grow beautiful flowers and bountiful vegetables naturally. Compost is another great source of organic matter for the garden. Create a compost bin and add leaves, lawn clippings, kitchen scraps, potting soil from last year’s containers and any other garden waste. Turn or aerate the pile once a month, and by next summer all that former yard waste will be nice organic material for your garden, and keep the refuse out of landfills.

Feeding, watering and weeds
Once the garden is planted, feeding, watering and weeding are essential to the growth and survival of flowers and vegetables. Fortunately, you can prevent weeds and feed plants for up to three months with Miracle-Gro Shake ‘n Feed All Purpose Plant Food Plus Weed Preventer when placed onto soil before laying mulch. Even with proper feeding, a garden should still be monitored daily for water needs, depending on the amount of rain and sunlight it receives.

Mulch is an often overlooked cousin of garden soil. Many believe mulch to be a strictly decorative item, but most gardeners know its true value. High-quality mulches like Scotts Nature Scapes Advanced look great while also helping conserve water and naturally preventing weeds by blocking growth and restricting access to sunlight. Mulch should be used around the base of plants and in beds, but can also be used to create pathways through a garden, making harvesting and watering easier. Don’t forget that containers also benefit from a nice 2-inch layer of mulch.

With just a little planning, and a few easy preparations, gardeners can reap the rewards come harvest time, and enjoy the beauty of the garden all season long.