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Best Practices for Tilling Garden Soil

Tilling is one of the oldest methods for preparing garden soil. It can be an efficient way to increase the yield of a vegetable garden, and it can also be useful for flower beds. Knowing how to till a garden properly can help you avoid potential problems like soil erosion.

Like many aspects of home gardening, tilling soil can be more involved than most realize. Here is a look at some of the best practices to use when tilling a garden.

What Is Tilling?

Garden tilling is the act of turning over the soil before planting. It can be done by hand if you have a small garden area. Most vegetable patches and large gardens will require the use of a mechanical tiller.

In a tilled garden, the soil is cultivated or turned to a depth of about 8 to 10 inches. You can even go deeper if necessary when the soil you have is poor.

Should you turn over garden soil? The answer really depends on your gardening project. If the area you've chosen has never been planted before, it can be very helpful to till the soil. You will also want a tilled garden if you need to add amendments.

Garden Tilling Preparation and Tilling for the First Time

The first step to tilling involves evaluating the type of soil that you have. This is especially true if you are tilling your garden for the first time.

Begin by turning over a sample of soil. You will want to go about 6 inches deep in your testing area. The soil below needs to be moist if you are planning on using a mechanical tiller.

Take up some of the soil in your hand and form it into a ball. Use an index finger to poke a hole in the ball's center. What you want is for the soil to break apart without difficulty. If it does, the ground is right for a mechanical tiller.

If you are hand-tilling smaller areas, you probably want the soil to be a little more firm. This will make the work go much easier with the hand tools that you will be using.

Preparation also involves picking up any surface debris that you may find. This includes sticks and rocks. Finally, spread the amendments that you have chosen so that these can be mixed in with the tilled soil.

Should You Wet the Ground Before Tilling?

If the garden soil that you are planning on tilling is too dry, you should consider adding water to it before you till.

Less is usually more, but water to a depth of about 4 inches. Let the water penetrate the soil before you begin the tilling process. This will usually take a day or two.

Choosing the Right Time for Tilling

There are differing opinions on when tilling should be done. Some gardeners prefer to turn the soil right after the harvest in the fall. For an established garden, consider tilling in spring.

Personal preferences aside, there are good reasons for making either choice. Doing the tilling in the fall allows the soil time to settle after being turned. Any manure that you have added may need a few months to alter the pH level of your soil. If your soil requires few amendments, putting tilling on the gardening schedule in spring can become a good routine.

The one thing that you want to avoid when tilling is doing it during periods of heavy rain. If you live in an area that tends to be wet in fall, wait until spring. The opposite also applies. Wet soil will break down too much with tilling, and the quality of the soil can be affected.

How Soon Can You Plant After Tilling?

When you till soil for planting, you are upsetting its ecosystem. It will need a little bit of time to recover. Don't fret. When done properly, tilling isn't bad.

Most experts tend to agree that two to three weeks is required between tilling and planting. This is enough time for the various organic matter to settle and once again begin producing the nutrients that your soil and plants need.

Be Careful of Tilling Too Much

One of the primary disadvantages of garden tilling is soil erosion. This can begin to happen over time if you are tilling each year. It is also true that excess tilling may present too much stress for the microorganisms that inhabit the soil.

A good rule of thumb is to cease tilling once you have a well-established garden that thrives from year to year. You should be able to do without tilling in that case unless you are adding extensive amendments. Monitor your soil and till as needed each year when you do your routine soil tests and assessments.

This guide to best tilling practices should help you create an attractive and healthy garden. All the work you put in will be worth it when you harvest those delicious foods in the fall.


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