Watch your step when the soil is wet

Gardeners like farmers have to plan their work around the weather. Wet weather limits what can be done in the yard.

Gardeners like farmers have to plan their work around the weather. Wet weather limits what can be done in the yard.

Hot, dry weather for long periods of times stresses the plants and taxes water supplies. This year the hot dry spells haven’t been a problem.

In a normal year, Central Alberta gardeners have to deal with both extremes. The basic rule is: Keep out of the beds when the soil is wet. Walking on wet soil will cause soil particles to be squished together to form a solid mass without air or moisture pockets. Plant roots will have a hard time penetrating the soil; leaving it bare.

Compacted soil is the common cause of empty spots in flower beds and paths on lawns. Paths become cut into the lawn from continuous foot traffic. The feet will damage some of the plants but not kill them.

Plants die because the soil is compacted to the point that roots can not push their way through the particles to grow.

Cultivating or digging wet soil also disturbs the soil structure. It causes the soil to cling together in hard lumps that are hard to break.

Too much rain or pounding rain can cause the soil to form a hard, thin layer on the surface. This layer keeps the soil underneath moist but will not allow air or water to penetrate, restricting plant growth. A light cultivation with a hand cultivator to break the top layer is needed to correct the problem.

Wet or damp soil does not always mean that all gardening must stop. It is a good time to aerate the lawn. When soil is moist the spikes that remove soil plugs penetrate deeper resulting in a better job. To determine if the lawn needs to be aerated, push a screwdriver into the lawn. If it disappears easily the soil it is not compacted. Aerate when it is hard to sink the screwdriver into the lawn.

Edging flower beds or sidewalks is much easier when the soil is moist.

The cutting edge of any tool will penetrate the soil quickly making it a quick and painless job. Winter kill is when a plant or part of a plant die over winter. Tender shrubs, vines and roses often die back and should be cut back to viable growth each spring.

Some plants are slower to bud out than others, but all viable plants should show some signs of growth by mid-June. Prune when the sun is shining, not when it is raining as viruses and diseases are often carried by wind and rain.

It is still possible to transplant or plant at this time of year.

Choose a time when the ground is not saturated and the weatherman calls for a cool day. Cooler temperatures ensure that the plants transpire less and are less likely to wilt. Plants can, and often do, recover from a wilt but it is best if they don’t wilt.

The top growth and bottom growth of potted plants, bedding perennials, trees and shrubs should all be similar in mass. The leaves process the amount of nutrients gathered. This theory doesn’t hold true if the pot is too small to allow the roots to spread outwards.

Once roots begin to form a mat covering the inside of the container (root bound), the plant is compromised. If all the roots are left intact they will not spread into the surrounding soil when they are transplanted. A simple way to overcome the problem is to cut or tear the roots and spread them outwards when they are being placed in the soil. Trimming the top growth will keep the balance between roots and top growth.

There is always lots to do in the garden, but keep it weather appropriate.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at