RENEGADE GARDENER

The lone voice of horticultural reason

Don’t stomp around in, dig up plants from, or rototill garden beds, in April.

What’s the big hurry? Working the soil in April does more harm than good.

We’ve just received over an inch of rain in central Minnesota/Zone 4, with nighttime temperatures hovering around forty degrees. The soil is wet, cold, and still in winter mode, with no warm-up in the forecast.

Sure, perennials are popping up. Just about everything is showing new spring growth, and I have Bleeding Heart up six inches tall. But plants are just shaking off winter, and to divide now shocks the pants off the poor new divisions. Plunge them into chilly soil, and they are shocked again.

Biggest problem is what happens to the soil. Never work wet soil – don’t dig, divide, or rototill. Working wet soil destroys the soil structure, it compacts it so harshly that by July, those areas that you worked are hard pack. And it’s not just the tools and machinery. Stomping around in your beds this time of year compacts the soil with every step.

Wait until we’ve had a nice warm period in May, where the soil temperature has risen and the sun has evaporated some moisture. New divisions will adapt to the soil and root more agreeably, and the soil you till will remain friable.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener