Tilling the garden is a spring ritual we look forward to all winter. And after our cool, slow warm-up this spring, many of us will be tempted to get out there and till on the first warm day.
Be careful though, it is possible to till too early. Tilling when there is too much moisture in the soil will cause it to form large clumps, ruining the soil structure.
I did that one time early on in my gardening career. Exposure to rain and winter freezing and thawing will eventually break down those clumps. But in my case, after two years the soil was still lumpy.
Squeeze the soil into a tight ball.
To help you decide when to till, use this simple test: scoop up a handful of soil and compress it tightly, like you’re making a snowball. Poke the soil ball with your finger. If it crumbles apart, then it is in good enough shape to till. If it stays in a ball, then it is still too wet to till.
Check each day until it passes the ball-of-soil test.
The weather people are predicting a string of nice days through the weekend and into next week. Many of us will looking for things to do out in the yard and garden.
Because November is the ideal time to apply lime, this weekend would be a good time to check the pH of your garden soil. If you have been fertilizing your garden regularly for several years in a row, the chances are your soil may need lime.
Lime is a calcium-based soil amendment that farmers and gardeners use to sweeten garden soil — raise the soil pH.
It’s not a good idea to just guess if your soil pH is low, your soil has to be tested. Fortunately, this is one test you can do yourself with a pH test kit from a garden center. These kits are pretty accurate. Just make sure you buy a fresh test kit because the test-chemicals will get old over time and produce an inaccurate reading.
There are several different types of lime and each type has a different application rate. Don’t worry though, all lime containers have application instructions printed on them. The amounts are usually given in pounds per 100 square feet or 1,000 square feet depending on the size of the bag.
In many cases a five pound bag of lime will be all you need to treat 100 square feet of soil.
Keep in mind, that sandy soils need liming more frequently than loam or clay soils.
Lawns too, will benefit from a fall application of lime if the soil pH tests low.
So, there’s your excuse to head out to the garden center, pick up some supplies and get some productive work done in your garden.
Fall is the best time of year to add lime to your garden soil. This gives the lime plenty of time to react with the soil chemistry and do its job raising the pH of the soil. The next best time to apply lime is right now, in early spring. There are several weeks to go until the gardening season is in full swing and any lime applied now will still have some time to react.
Some gardeners add lime to their gardens quite regularly without really knowing if the soil needs it or not. If you ask why often the answer is, “we always add lime”.
Lime is a generic term for different types of calcium products. It is used to sweeten soils or raise soil pH.
Adding lime without testing the soil first is setting you up for problems in the future. Too much lime will cause such a rise in soil pH that some nutrients in the soil will no longer be available to your plants.
Lime induced chlorosis is one typical problem we see. In this case the leaves of the garden plants begin to turn yellow due to lack of iron. Iron is needed by plants and is readily available in low pH or sour soils. As the pH rises, less and less iron is available for the plant to use until a point is reached where symptoms start to show up.
A sample of your garden soil can be tested by a soils lab. Soil pH is routinely tested along with critical soil minerals. The most reliable tests are available through the County Extension Office.
At the very least do your garden a favor, pick up a soil pH test kit from the garden center and test the pH yourself. Most of the pH tests are fine for home garden use.