The “Dirt” on Dirt

May 18, 2022

This spring undoubtedly has many of us feeling like we live in Seattle, not the Twin Cities. With the rain and cool temps, we’ve had to postpone plantings, bundle up for what little lawn work we can get out and tackle, and rather than Prosecco under a porch fan, we’ve been sipping hot cocoa by a bonfire! These relentless cold temps and rains can be detrimental to our soil if we don’t take a few precautionary measures. 

Making sure to avoid soil compaction is paramount. Soil is at its best when it is composed of predominantly minerals, with equal parts water and air, and a small amount of organic matter. When this balance gets thrown off- like when it rains for days, our soil can actually produce toxic chemicals such as alcohol, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia, which kill delicate plant root cells. Avoiding soil compaction is as easy as staying off of your growing surfaces until they have had the chance to dry out and regain their neutrality. During this “No Mow May,” consider refraining from mowing or driving tractors and other garden machinery onto your lawn, as well as limiting heavy foot traffic- especially when conditions are wet. 


A common issue we see during wetter than average springs is nitrogen deficiency. Nitrogen is necessary for sustained plant growth, but heavy rains can wash out this much-needed nutrient. The downward pull of an influx of water leaches and strips the nitrogen and sends it into drainage systems, rather than feeding our plants. To put nitrogen back into the soil, you can add a dose of lawn fertilizer at half the rate to replace the nitrogen that has left the soil. Be prudent with your application however because adding too much will overstimulate growth and can also delay fruit set. For lawns, it is best to follow instructions on the bag and if anything, cut back as opposed to using more than is called for. Garden plants can be side-dressed 6-8” around each plant with an organic, slow-release fertilizer or compost tea to replace nitrogen. Compost tea, which is like a multivitamin for your soil, can be used in both yards and gardens and can be brewed at home using this guide.


Two safe bets for gardening in wet conditions are container gardens and raised ground beds. Container gardens are quite simply, a robust framework with good growing soil. They allow you to control the amount of moisture the garden receives by way of coverings, so you can help improve aeration and maintain heat absorption. Raised ground beds are just that! Loose, mounded soil, formed into rows. This planting strategy increases efficiency by absorbing or dispersing heavy rains and providing more surface area for trapping and maintaining heat. It may still be necessary to cover your raised beds but inevitably, warmer temps are on the way. In the meantime, although spring might be putting a damper on our gardening ambitions, there are always creative workarounds!

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