Begin by deciding what you are going to grow.  Whether or not you are growing fruits, vegetables or flowers and plants can make a big difference.  Vegetables and fruits such as squash and cantaloupes are crops that get planted and grow once during the year.  In other words, tomatoes for example, is a fruit that gets planted from seed early in the year and grows during the warm months of the year, once frost comes the vine is finished and will have to be replanted the next year.  This allows you to work and add nutrients to the soil and build it up during the off season.  However, there are many flowers and plants that grow continuously throughout the year during both warm and cold months.  For these types of plants you must continually maintain and build up soil nutrients and health throughout the year ensuring that the plant survives and doesn’t deplete the soil.  Depending on what you grow will determine how you must go about preparing the soil.


Once you have decided what you will grow, determine the land on which you will plant.  Consider what the particular tract of land offers with respect to the crop and if it is a good fit.  Is the prospective location one with lots of sun, is it shady, are there high quality soil nutrients present, is it extremely rocky, has it been planted on before, etc.  For example, fruit crops like watermelons and pumpkins require full sun, nutrient rich soil and well draining soil, and so if you were growing these crops you would look for land that fulfills these requirements.


Always start preparing your garden early and one of the best first steps you can take is to have a soil test performed.  Many state extension offices provide this service for free and there are private laboratories that can offer this service at a reasonable cost for standard and specialized crops.  The process to prepare a soil test sample is relatively simple, you take clean, for the most part undisturbed samples of the soil you will plant in, place them in sample containers and send them to the lab.  For the specific lab you are using, you will of course have an outlined sample gathering procedure.  Typically on your soil testing form that you send in with your samples, you will be able to select what crop you are growing, and the soil report you receive will have listed recommendations for what your soil needs for the season to support the crop you are growing.  The commonly listed soil nutrient requirements (if needed) will be for Lime or Sulfur (depending on the soil pH), Nitrogen, Phosphate, and Potash.  Always pay careful attention to soil nutrient recommendation units so that you don’t under or over feed your garden.


As mentioned before, it so important to begin preparing for your garden early.  Getting your soil test performed three to four months before you begin planting is ideal as this will allow you to begin applying nutrients to your soil and allow the slower release ones to breakdown to appropriate levels before the plant is in the ground.  Also, it’s a good idea to get your seeds, plants and bulbs well ahead of planting so you will be ready.  Best of luck to you on getting your garden started.