Test for moisture before planting | THE COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER

"Early spring is here and for some gardeners that means it is time to plant seed – but planting seed this early will not work in every garden."

Early spring is here and for some gardeners that means it is time to plant seed – but planting seed this early will not work in every garden.

Winter rains have soaked the soil in Western Washington so that even if the weather is mild, the amount of dampness in the soil could rot the seeds. You can sow the seeds of early season vegetables like peas, lettuce, cabbage and carrots now but only if you have raised beds or sandy soil.

To check if your soil is dry enough for spring planting give your soil a squeeze to test the moisture level.

How to test your soil before planting:

• Use a trowel to dig into the top 6 inches of soil and place a clump into the palm of your hand.

• Close your hand around the soil and squeeze firmly but not forcefully.

• If water runs out through your fingers your soil is too wet to plant.

• Now open your palm and look at the clump of squeezed soil. If it is still in a solid ball or still a clay mound, then the soil is too wet to plant seeds.

Soil that is well drained enough for early planting will fall apart into clumps in your palm after the squeeze test – it will be loose and friable.

No use crying over wet soil. Wait another month and by mid-April most soils in Western Washington will have warmed enough to plant lettuce, peas, carrots, cabbage and radish. Meanwhile, make this the week you pull weeds, remove old plants and rake up garden debris.

It is still too early to plant the seeds of warmth-loving crops such as tomatoes, squash, eggplant, beans and corn. Even if you start the seeds indoors it is still too early – the seeds will sprout but you cannot set the young transplants outside until all danger of frost is past in mid-May – so the seedlings will grow tall and lanky searching for the sun as they wait for May Day.

Satisfy your urge to dig by visiting the nursery for hardy perennials such as primroses, hellebores, heathers and rock garden plants like candytuft, phlox and aubrieta. It is also a good time to purchase potted shrubs such as the early blooming, bright yellow forsythia, the purple flowering and wind-and-sun tolerant PJM rhododendrons, and any of the bare root fruit trees, roses or flowering shrubs.

Q. This spring I have a lot more moss in my yard. There is moss in my lawn, moss growing on my soil and flower beds and green mossy stuff on my roof, steps and walkways. What is the best way to get rid of all my moss? J.K., Puyallup

A. Blame the green fur on our record-breaking rainfall then learn to live with a bit of the moss monster. Once the sun dries things up, the moss will retreat and using a mulch on top of your garden beds will cover up and smother the moss growing on the soil.

The good news is the moss does not kill your plants or your lawn. It is simply an opportunist sprouting in cool, damp and dark places. Moss can make steps and walkways slippery and destroy the life span of roofs and wooden structures.

A stiff broom or wire brush can remove moss from outdoor surfaces and moss killing sprays are available for roofs and other structures at local home and garden stores. Read the label and choose a moss-icide that will not harm your plants when it drips from overhead. As for moss in the lawn – you’ll need to improve the drainage by aerating the soil, add more sunlight by limbing up or removing trees, fertilize the grass to crowd out the moss or learn to love your soft green moss lawn.

 


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