How to Refresh Raised Bed Garden Dirt in Spring

Now that winter is over, you need to know how to refresh the raised bed garden dirt that your plants depend on so that it is ready for a new season of delicious vegetables. Raised bed garden soil slowly settles throughout the growing season, and winter further compacts the soil thanks to rain and snow. In addition, an entire growing season of garden vegetables depletes the soil of nutrients that your plants need to be productive.

Hopefully you have already created gardens with a light soil that is made for raised beds. The best soil for raised garden beds is a mixture of vermiculite, peat moss, and compost in equal shares. This mixture will keep the soil light and easy to blend, while offering nutrients and fibers that retain water well. What’s best about this mix is that it is very easy to freshen up in spring to get ready for planting time.

Removing Raised Bed Garden Dirt Compaction

These raised beds are ready for planting.

These raised beds are ready for a new season.

The first step in your spring cleaning plan is to stir up the dirt to eliminate any soil compaction that has taken place since last season. With a proper soil mix that is not too heavy, this is a very simple job. Just use a garden rake or, better yet, a 3-tine rake, to stir the soil around. This is a great way to bury any leaves or other natural things that are sitting on top of the soil so that they break down quickly. It also helps to turn the soil inside out once in a while. Once you are done with this step, it’s time to add some goodies.

Healthy Garden Soil

Now that the garden bed has been stirred up, it’s time to get some new energy in that soil, and the best way to do this is with compost. If you make your own, add some compost to the garden a few weeks before you plant, or closer to planting time if you just couldn’t get out in time. Homemade compost works great for this task. Other things you might mix in would be eggshells or coffee grounds.

When heading to the nursery for compost, consider composted manure or leaf compost. Both are natural, abundant, and reasonably priced. Depending on where you live, you may find several other options as well. I always find mushroom compost at my garden center. It’s better to get a wider range of different types of compost than to get all one kind.

Adding Fertilizer Before Planting

Some gardeners like to add a slow-release fertilizer to the garden bed before planting time. While this may be helpful for many vegetables, I find it to be unnecessary – especially in a raised garden bed. With the soil mix noted earlier, I have yet to see plants that look like they needed more fertilizer. In fact, I tend to fertilize young tomatoes and peppers just once or twice with Miracle Grow for Tomatoes early in their lives, and then I stop for the rest of the year. Using this method I have seen amazing harvests.

If you’d like to add something like Milorganite, or even mix in a bag or Miracle Grow potting soil, spring is a fine time to do it. Just know that it is optional when you have already added rich compost.

Adding Square Foot Garden Soil

As we said before, a super mix contains compost, vermiculite, and peat moss. If you have added more than just a little bit of compost, consider adding some more vermiculite and peat moss as well to keep these three key ingredients at a fairly even ratio. Your garden will be better off for it in the long run. Over time, if you only add new compost, the soil will begin to get heavier. You can easily skip this step every other year, but I find it easier to just treat each season the same.

The Final Big Garden Soil Mix

Once you have all of the new ingredients in the garden bed, it’s time to mix it all up. Just use your garden rake to blend the soil ingredients nicely until it is fully blended. When that’s done, level the soil, and then go gets your seeds ready.

When to Begin Planting a Garden in Spring

Once your garden is ready, there’s nothing stopping you except the weather, but don’t wait too long. Many home gardeners wait until the last frost date or later to get the garden growing each season. That is really a mistake if you like cool-season crops. In fact, vegetables like spinach, radishes, lettuce, onions, or peas can be sown quite early – as much as 4 weeks ahead of the last frost date. They will do much better reaching maturity before your weather turns hot and dry, so get out there and get your garden growing early.

Photo by gregor_y via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

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