Most of us are SO over winter at this point and all we want to do is get our hands and feet in the dirt again. But hang on a minute! Even though we’re ready to get going, our gardens may not be. Working the soil now could actually harm it and create a difficult growing environment for plants.
Whether you’re thinking about planting flowers or vegetables, the soil in your beds must be completely thawed and not saturated before you start. If your soil is very wet from melted snow or winter rains, don’t do anything! Even walking on it will compact it and make it more difficult to work later. (As a matter of fact, once you get the soil in your beds in good shape, you should try to walk on it as little as possible. A few well-placed rocks, boards or paths will help.)
Here’s a little test to help you decide when soil is ready to be worked. Dig into the ground where you want to work (note that different parts of the garden may have different levels of moisture) and bring up a trowel full of soil. Take a handful and squeeze it. Now open your hand. Does it stay in a tight ball? If it does, it’s too wet to work and you’re going to have to wait until it dries out a bit. If your handful starts to break apart when you open your fingers, poke at it. Does it crumble into small pieces, kind of like chocolate cake? Very good! It’s ready to go.
Once your soil is workable, you’ll want to start thinking about amending it and here is where things get slightly more complicated. When we talk about amending soil, we are really talking about two separate but related things — soil structure and soil fertility, or good tilth as it is sometimes referred to. These are two critical elements that will make or break you as a gardener and in Thursday’s Garden Journal we’ll help you figure out what you need to do to create the best possible soil in your garden.