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Resist the urge to work the wet soil

This long, cold, wet winter is giving me the itch to get out the tiller or shovel and workup some garden soil. There is nothing like the smell of freshly tilled earth. It is like an elixir to me — urging me to plant and rush spring. But many areas of the garden are still soggy from the rain, making soils too wet to work.

It really is best for your garden’s long-term health to resist the urge. Whether you use a tiller, plow or just a garden spade, working wet soil can badly compact soil, causing negative effects that may last for years.

Once compacted, it will take many seasons to rebuild a healthy soil structure. The only remedy would be to apply annual applications of organic matter, such as composted plant or animal wastes or growing multiple green manure crops. 

The best course of action is to prevent compaction in the first place. To determine whether your garden soil is dry enough to work, dig a trowel full of soil and squeeze in your hand. Soil that crumbles through your fingers when squeezed is ready to garden. If the soil forms a muddy ball, give it another few days to dry and sample again.

In the meantime, don’t rush spring. You can soothe that gardening itch by sketching garden plans, browsing catalogs and visiting your local garden centers. You’ll be ready for action when the soil is dry enough.

Rebecca Bates is an MSU Extension-Lincoln County agent, and can be reached at 601-835-3460 or by e-mail at rebecca.bates@msstate.edu.