As things start to warm up and green up, it’s always tempting to rush the season and begin working the garden. If the soil is too wet, however, you risk compacting the soil and spreading plant diseases. Instead, why not prepare for spring by working on the compost pile? Then you will have finished compost ready for the spring push and room for the first crop of weeds and trimmings. How can you tell if the soil is too wet to work? Take a small amount of soil in your hand and squeeze it into a little ball. If the soil stays together in a soggy mass, you need to wait awhile.
While you’re examining the soil, take a little time to learn more about it. It will help you pick the plants that will grow best in your yard. Take a small soil sample and put it in a jar. (Spaghetti sauce jars work well, and some even have measuring lines on the side.) Add water to the sample until you have a mixture of five parts water to one part soil. Shake until thoroughly mixed, and then set aside.
After a few hours, check the jar. You will see that the water is clear and the soil has separated into different layers so it’s easy to compare the relative proportion of organic matter, sand, silt, and clay. (Note: If your soil has a high clay content, the clay particles may never settle out, but will be held in suspension and the water will not be clear.)
Ah, a sure sign of spring: the TV is once again running ads for fertilizers, grass seed, pesticides, and lawn care services. BE STRONG! Resist the temptation to fertilize the lawn. Cool season grasses (like bluegrass and fescues) are growing slowly, and an extra boost of food will only encourage weak, shallow-rooted growth. Warm season grasses like zoysia will not break out of dormancy until temperatures remain consistently above 60 degrees. Cool season weeds, however, will be quick to take advantage of the bonus. Early spring fertilization only helps the weeds overgrow the grass, and yet, in a recent survey, 73 percent of residents said they fertilize in spring.
So do yourself a favor and, instead of buying fertilizer, invest in a Cooperative Extension soil test. A soil test will tell you whether or not fertilizer will be needed later in the year. You can get more information about soil testing as well as timely tips from the Cooperative Extension Home and Garden Information Center website at extension.umd.edu/hgic.
[Note: The link just above has been updated from what appeared in the printed newsletter.] ■
© 2003 NFCCA [Source: https://nfcca.org/news/nn200304c.html]