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Gardening: It’s time for some cleanup, and perhaps a soil test

I took a few minutes over the weekend to sit on the patio.

Yes, I had a jacket on, but it felt so good to feel a warmish breeze and listen to the birds singing. The frogs in the pond below us were making a half-hearted attempt to croak; right on schedule for my husband’s birthday. So it must be time to begin spring garden clean-up.

It will be a few more weeks before the soil warms up enough to get the grass growing, so now is the time to get the leaves and needles off the lawns. A couple of my neighbors figured out that mowing the debris with the lawn mower is a really quick way to shred and vacuum up stuff.

My yard has too many pine needles and broken branches for that strategy but I do know some kids who could earn some spending money raking. We will run the needles through the shredder and spread them back on the garden beds as mulch.

Since we’ll have the shredder out, I’ll cut down the remaining plant stalks we missed last fall and mix them into the shredding. Maybe there will be some residual seeds from the perennials that will sprout in new places – I’m not big on neat and tidy beds. There usually aren’t enough needles to mulch everything so I’ll dig into the compost pile and spread more mulch wherever there is a bare spot. Doing this now before the weeds get started will save hours of work later.

If you are going to do any digging early, first check to see if the soil is dry enough to work. Working soil when it’s too wet can compact it and make it difficult for roots to penetrate later. To check, take a handful of soil and squeeze it in your hand to form a ball. Gently poke it; if it falls apart easily the soil is dry enough to work. If it doesn’t, then wait a week or two to do those projects.

Now would also be a good time to get a soil test done on your garden plot before you start planting. A soil test provides you with the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels and the amount of organic material as well as the pH level currently in your soil. It will also give you recommendations of how much – if any – nutrients you need to add.

Fertilizer is not cheap these days so knowing how much you need to apply will end up saving you money. It also helps reduce the amount of fertilizer that mixes with water and then flows into our lakes and streams. Locally, the Spokane Conservation District can do a basic soil test for N-P-K, organic matter content and pH for a home garden for $30. There is more information on how to take and submit a sample at or by calling (509) 535-7274.