With this remarkably slow start to sunny spring weather following a relatively long cold and snowy winter, gardeners are tramping at the bit to get their hands into the soil. Some might be thinking there is no point in doing anything until the warm weather arrives, however I suggest you bundle up and get out there because some things are best done early regardless of conditions.
Before I make some early planting suggestions however I want to remind everyone it is too early for some gardening activities. Dethatching the lawn and even plug aeration is better done when the saturated soil dries out a bit. Years ago, I recall a well-known landscape maintenance contractor say he likes to see the dust fly when he dethatches and when plugging he doesn’t like to see the plugs come out all shiny and slick.
Rototilling should be done only once a year if at all. Yes, I just said that! Rototillers came on the scene in the 1930s and ’40s and really became a mainstay of many home gardeners in the ‘50s and 60s. The reason for their popularity was because of our false idea that nice finely pulverized soil that you can run your fingers through created the ideal conditions for a good garden. I can remember my dad doing just that, running his fingers through the freshly rototilled soil with a gleeful look on his face after his first pass through the field with his brand-new Troy-Bilt. We really are discovering that nature has most things right when it comes to growing plants and the one thing she doesn’t have is a rototiller.
What happens naturally is the ground breaks up after a cold frozen winter into peds which are basically chunks of soil separated by voids. It would take much more space than I have here to get into the soil science of things but in a nut-shell rototilling breaks down the natural structure of the soil resulting in compaction which is the enemy of good gardening. Also, if you dig down through that freshly rototilled soil you will find a smooth shiny surface where the tines bottomed out which results in a perched water table.
The best way to prepare the garden soil each spring is to turn it over with a spade or spading fork then rake the surface to create a nice seed bed. If you have a large garden and wish to make things easier, purchase or rent a self-propelled machine that will pull a cultivator or harrow through the ground. Either way it is best to wait until the soil dries out a little.
There are some things that are best to be planted this early so preparing a little patch of garden for some peas, beets, onion sets and chard is a good thing. Starting a few things indoors at this time of year is possible with tuberous begonias and perhaps even a few tomato and pepper plants. I’ve said this before but there is nothing better than a cold frame to get things going early and hardening off the plants started indoors.
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