Spring in Colorado brings out the best in gardeners, who have been pining for the warm, longer days of the growing season. We revel in the first hellebores and crocus to bloom and spend every warm day outside doing what few chores we can.
Spring in Colorado also brings out the worst in gardeners, because in our zeal to Get Things Growing, we engage in soil preparation. And when the soil is this wet, tilling or turning it is the last thing you want to do.
If you had taken advantage of the weekend before the big snowstorm to turn compost into your soil, you’re lucky; those of us who didn’t get to it are now stuck, waiting for the ground to dry. The slow, steady melt of the wet snow had seeped deep into the ground, creating very muddy conditions.
That super saturated soil is now a hazard to planting, because wet soil particles slide together more easily, become compacted, and lock together if the wet storms are followed by dry weather. Driving a tiller across the ground adds weight to the wet soil, creating more compaction that isn’t easily reversed.
Hand cultivation can be tricky, too, in the saturated soils we now have; it’s a problem for both gardener and plants. Wet soil is heavy, making turning it more of a workout than early spring bodies are ready for. Back and hip problems are common amongst gardeners who rush out to get the entire garden ready on the first warm day following snowmelt.
We who didn’t prepare our soil aren’t alone in the wait, however. Those who prepped their garden by tilling in compost ahead of the storm are advised to wait until the soil dries some before planting as well. Using a hoe or trowel to dig a seed furrow in wet soil often results in compaction of the sides of the furrow, slicking the mud of our soils together until it forms a dense sidewall. Known as “mudding in” the slick, compacted sides of the furrow slow or prevent water percolation and are harder for young roots to break through; the result can be slow growth, seed failure, and girdled roots.
This is where wet soils brings out the worst in gardeners, who are impatient to get planting. We stare out windows, heave sighs when glancing at the garden, and repeatedly creep cautiously toward the raised beds to see if there’s a hint of drying. Be patient with your gardener; we’re undergoing a crisis of the soul by second guessing our decision to wait until the soil warms to amend it.
Once is has dried a bit, the most important thing to add to any Colorado soil isn’t fertilizer, it’s organic materials like compost, peat or well-aged manure. To amend soil, add a two-inch layer of organic material over the surface of the soil and mix it into the top four to six inches. Add four cubic yards of organic amendment per 1,000 square feet of soil area.
Use the time before the soil dries to plan and procure your soil amendments, so you’re poised to spring into action when the ground is ready. Start seeds indoors, sharpen tools and engage in some stretching and light weight lifting, to get your body ready.
By Carol O’Meara. Carol is an Extension Agent – Horticulture Entomology at Colorado State University Extension Boulder County. For more information call 303.678.6377, e-mail
[email protected] or visit ext.colostate.edu/boulder.