The instructions on most of the seed packets gardeners purchase for planting direct them to plant sometime in the spring. Spring is when the temperature, available sunlight and moisture levels combine to provide the ideal growing conditions for plants. Just look at the wild plants that spring to life around the same time each year. But spring planting is not foolproof. You must follow a few guidelines to plant successfully, even during the right time of year.
Test your soil in the fall. Use a spade to take several soil samples at a depth of 6 inches from several different areas of your garden. Deposit these samples into a bucket and mix them together. Then take a cup full of the soil, remove any debris and seal it in a clean plastic container. Then take the container to your local county extension office for testing (for a nominal fee). The resulting report will tell you how much fertilizer you need to add to your soil and inform you of an pH adjustments you need to make.
Prepare the planting bed. Remove any weeds and their root systems, undesirable plants, rocks and other debris. Then use a hand tiller or rototiller to till the soil to a depth of 1 foot. Break up any large clumps of soil and remove any rocks or large roots that you encounter.
Spread the amendments that the soil test recommended evenly over the planting area. Till the soil again, to a depth of 1 foot. Then smooth the area over with a rake.
Find out when the last frost date for your area is expected to be. Seasoned gardeners will know when this is by experience. However, if you are unsure about the last frost date in your area, contact your local county extension office to find out when it will be, or check your area's frost data on the National Climatic Data Center website link in Resources.
Till the soil to a depth of 1 foot when you are ready to plant. Cold hardy plants can be planted as soon as the ground thaws. Some need light frost and can be planted as early as 2 weeks before the expected frost date in your area. And most warm season plants will need to be planted a couple weeks after the last frost date or the freeze will kill them. Follow your plant's cultivation recommendations for guidelines.
Smooth the soil over with a rake.
Dig holes for seeds and bulbs at the depths dictated by their varieties. Dig holes for your container transplants that are just as wide and twice as deep as the containers they came in.
Water the area well so that it is moist.