April Fools’ For The Gardeners

By the look and feel of mid-afternoon in Sonoma County these days, it’s spring! You feel like you want to be out in the garden all day, digging, amending with compost, planting spring crops, and cutting fresh flowers to bring into the house. Even if the morning is chilly, by late in the day you could be outside feeling the sun on your arms in just a t-shirt. Garden centers and nurseries are getting all sorts of spring products in, daffodils are blooming, and your allergies are going crazy. Must be spring for real, right?

Or not! April fools?

Two main things may stand in our way before jumping into the garden as if it’s truly spring. The first is frost potential, the second is waterlogged soil that’s just too wet to work. Our average last frost here where I am in Sebastopol is March 30th. This means that there’s a 50% probability that a frost will come through on this date. Where does this leave me, as a gardener? And there’s no point buying plants from the nursery, only to take them home and realize that your soil is too wet to plant.

What can we do?

Make Sure To Test Your Soil Moisture

wet soil spring

Photo credit: Everythingzoomer

It’s well worth your time to pay attention to what is going on in your ground, and get in there to work the soil only when it’s at a near-perfect moisture level. Soil, after all, is fragile. If you treat it right, with care and patience, you will be more than rewarded with towering, healthy crops.

We once again turn to thinking about air space in the soil. When the ground gets muddy and heavy, your activities in the garden will only act to squish out that air space – leaving no room for roots to spread and grow.

To test if your soil is right for working, grab a handful of it, squeeze it into a ball, release your fingers, and see if the ball shape remains. If it quickly turned into a solid mass, it’s still too wet! If it instead forms a loose ball, that easily breaks apart when you toss it lightly in the air and catch it again, it’s perfect and ready to be planted. Aim for this sweet spot for any of your gardening tasks – whether digging or transplanting. Otherwise, wait and avoid one of the most common gardening mistakes out there.

Cover Your Crops!

If you’re lucky and your soil is dry, go ahead and plant. But remember that tiny seedlings may not appreciate harsh cold nights! I previously wrote an extensive post on how to build a low-tunnel greenhouse. If you have something like this set up, it’s worth using that valuable space to plant spring crops inside where they’re sheltered from the cold. That layer of plastic can warm the air just enough to provide a nice warm microclimate for your crops, and the protection from wind and frost will allow them to get used to the weather without the fret of frost.

In addition to planting in the greenhouse, you can also just cover your crops with any sort of row cover – Agribon and Remay are common options. If indeed it does frost, the plants won’t want that cold frosty fabric sitting right on top of it. So make sure to keep it off the leaves by setting up some low hoops for the fabric to rest on. This can be as simple as 9-gauge wire cut into pieces and stuck into the ground.

In sum, don’t let the spring sunshine fool you! By all means, get out there and garden. Just be smart and think about potential soggy soil and harsh nights, and plan accordingly.

Until next time!