How to tell if your soil is ready to work

Midwestern spring can be tricky. Late snow and heavy rain can affect soil’s texture. If soil is worked too early or when too wet, it will compact the soil. Imagine what happens when you stuff a down pillow into a tight suitcase.  Compacted soil can increase run off and impact the water table. It prevents delicate new roots from getting the moisture needed for strong plants and it creates more work hauling hoses later.

So how do you know when your soil can be worked? Depends on your soil and location. Sandy soil can be worked earlier than clay soil. If your location is in a particularly hot or dry, it might be ready earlier as well.

There’s a simple trick many farmers and gardeners rely on.  Take a hand trowel or a shovel and dig 6 inches below the top of the soil. Grab and handful of that soil and squeeze. If the dirt holds together in a hunk, doesn’t break apart easily and feels cold and wet, it isn’t ready. Don’t dig. Wait for it to dry out some more. Here is an example of dirt too wet to work.


If it doesn’t hold in a tight hunk, breaks apart easily and feels the same temperature as the air, it’s time to get your hands dirty. Here is an example of dirt ready to dig into.