With warmer weather often comes ‘Spring Fever’. Home gardeners hit hard with this condition might often be tempted to rush to do their spring tilling when the ground is wet. Don’t make this mistake as you can potentially damage the structure of your garden soil for years to come.
Performing tilling when your garden is still wet can destroy valuable soil structure. The air and water pore spaces that make up soil structure are not easily established once they are destroyed! These pore spaces are critical for overall plant health and root development. Soil rototilled when wet often times forms soil ‘clods’ that will be hard to deal with later. Also remember that too much traffic on wet soil will do almost as much damage in some cases as tilling when the soil is wet.
If your soil contains even moderate amounts of clay, tilling with the right moisture content is very important. Homeowners can do a quick ‘squeeze test’ to determine if their soil is ready to till. To determine whether the moisture content of high clay content soil is satisfactory for tilling, take a handful of soil and squeeze it into a ball in your hand. The moisture content is good for tilling if slight pressure from your fingertips causes the ball to crumble.
Or, drop a ball of soil from about waist height. If the ball shatters, it may be dry enough to be safe to work without destroying the structure.
If you want to work some compost into your soil early in the season, it is best to do the blending with a shovel or spading fork. Once again, this is a better option than tilling the compost into soil with power equipment.
Early warm, sunny spring days provide the perfect opportunity to get out and get some compost into your soil. Just remember that compost that has been sitting on top of your garden as a mulch has been insulating the soil. This insulation effect delays the soil from warming up and drying out. Mix the compost into the soil and you will speed the warming process, making earlier planting possible.
Submitted by Ray Tackett, Agent for Horticulture, Bourbon Co. Cooperative Extension