If you are planning a new bed of perennials, ground covers, shrubs or trees to plant next spring, the path to success starts with a good foundation. It’s easiest to improve the soil before you put the plants in, so now is the time to do that.

Before starting, weed the area.

Next, test the pH of the soil. Test kits are affordable and widely available. Additionally, most states have university agricultural extension offices that provide low-cost testing services to home garden growers.

Each plant species thrives best at a certain pH range. If the reading is outside the plant’s target range, it will not be able to benefit from the nutrients, either from the soil or fertilizer. So consider what you will be planting next year, know the pH requirements and amend the soil if necessary.

Agricultural limestone will raise the pH, and aluminum sulfate or sulfur will lower it. The package label will provide directions for your soil type and the square footage of the bed.

If you’re lucky enough to have fall leaves littering your property, push a thin layer of it into beds and borders. If possible, shred them first with a mulching mower.

Then lay 3-4 inches of well-sourced, non-sterile compost over the leaves (or directly on the soil if leaves are not present) and level it with a hard rake. It will feed the beneficial microbes and other organisms that live in the soil, releasing quality nutrients into the ground to feed your plants.

Contrary to old gardening beliefs, it is best not to make soil amendments. Doing so may damage soil structure, break up valuable fungal hyphae, kill earthworms and other beneficial insects, and bring weed seeds to the surface.

Remember that the richest soil is in the forest floor, and no one has ever dug it. So, unless your goal is to correct the drainage problem, simulate nature and introduce modifications directly to the ground. They’ll be working their way up over the next few months.

Apply 2-3 inches of mulch over the compost to increase weed suppression and moderate soil temperature and humidity during the winter. If the plants are already growing in a bed, delay adding mulch until after a severe frost, and keep compost and mulch a few inches from the stems and trunks to prevent rotting.

By spring, the benefits of the amendments will be available at the root level, and the soil will have become mushy to facilitate planting. Push the protective cover away and set up your plants.

Your new garden will thrive in the rich, organic environment you’ve created, and will reward you with vigorous growth, beautiful flowers and productive vegetables. They will be sturdier, healthier and more tolerant of pests and diseases.

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Jessica Damiano writes regular gardening columns for the Associated Press. It publishes our award winning weekly newsletter. Sign up here for weekly gardening advice s and tips.

For more AP stories, go to https://apnews.com/hub/gardening.

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