Cornell Cooperative Extension

April 1, 2013

Avoid early gardening pitfalls

I celebrated the first day of spring by building a snowman on our barbecue after clearing a path through the snow on the patio. 

Now it’s beginning to look like spring may have finally reached the North Country. While we wait for the temperatures that herald the beginning of the growing season, you may want to keep a few things in mind.

I know how difficult it can be after several warm days to keep yourself from going out with a shovel, rake, hoe and every other tool you have. We are eager to be outdoors working in our flower beds or starting to prepare the soil for our vegetable gardens.

We have been inside for several months now, and although you may be ready to get your garden started, your garden is probably not. There are a few things you want to avoid in your enthusiasm to get your hands dirty.


You don’t want to work your soil while it is too wet and you don’t want to walk on it, either. Wet soil compacts when we walk on it, similar to the way snow does. Compacted soil makes it difficult for roots to grow through or water to drain.

To check the moisture level, take a ball of soil about the size of a walnut in the palm of your hand and squeeze it. If moisture drips or it’s a mud ball, it’s too wet to work, but if the soil holds together rub your thumb over it and see how it crumbles. It should come apart and look like the crumbs of chocolate cake. Soggy soil leads to rotting roots and seeds.

If you must walk on your soil, lay a piece of plywood or even heavy cardboard down to help distribute your weight. Avoid walking on your lawn for the same reason. You want the roots of your lawn, your perennials, shrubs and trees to get a good start on the season as they wake up to spring.

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Cornell Cooperative Extension