How to - Gardening Basics

To till or not to till

April Demes

Just how much should you cultivate your soil in the spring and fall?

When tilling may be necessary
Sommers’ basic ground rule is not to till, but rather to layer on the compost, plant thickly and mulch heavily. “Mulch is the key,” she insists. But when it comes to places you need to seed, Sommers acknowledges that tilling may be called for. “I tilled my veggie patch this spring,” she says. A little cultivation—not too deep!—will loosen the soil, allowing tiny seedlings to break through.

Double digging can be useful when preparing a new bed, but “build it once and leave it,” warns Sommers. “Mulch it really well, and plant heavily.” If you do this, the soil will take care of itself and most weeds will be deterred.
Rather than all that digging, though, Sommers is more a fan of the lasagna bed: letting nature break down layers of newspaper and manure into a humus-rich planting bed.

I once read that gardening author Marjorie Harris said: “Soil is the soul of gardening.” Keep its health in mind before you pull out the tiller.

Photo: Chris Price/istock


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