Community Education on Environment and Development

When to Start your Spring Garden

All digging should be done when the soil is moist but not dripping wet. Pick up a handful of soil in one hand and squeeze it into a ball. It should feel damp, but no water should drip as you squeeze. If it is too wet, let it sit for a couple of (rainless) days and try again. If the soil is still soaking wet after several dry days, then your drainage is poor, and you may wish to consider building raised bed planters.

Ideally, at this point you should be able to form a ball of soil in your hand that stays together when you open your hand, but crumbles easily when you tap it with a finger.

If the soil won't hold together in a ball, then it is probably too sandy to hold water and plant nutrients well. Adding organic matter will remedy this situation. If the soil is sticky wet and won't crumble easily, then it is clayey. Again, adding organic matter will improve the soil to a degree. If you have extremely sticky clay which molds easily, the only way to garden is to build raised planters ten to twelve inches high and bring in soil.

When your soil is dry enough to work, add whatever it needs to grow a good crop. Most soils in our area require four things: air, organic matter, lime and fertilizer. Air is added by turning the soil as you dig (or better yet, double dig). Our native soils usually benefit from compost or other organic matter; they tend to be quit acidic, so need additions of lime every two or three years; and they require supplementary plant nutrients, especially nitrogen.

Once you have decided what crops to grow and prepared the soil, you can figure out when to plant. Planting dates vary according to microclimate. Those of you gardening very near Puget Sound or one of the areas large lakes will probably be able to start quite early. Inland gardens, particularly those in the Cascade foothills, will need to wait later. During especially cold, wet springs, everyone will have to delay a bit.

As soon as the soil is ready in March plant:

After April 1st plant:

Wait until after mid-May to plant:

Because the West coast has relatively cool summers, it is difficult to grow some of the heat-loving crops here. Choose early maturing varieties and set them out as well established transplants whenever possible. Using heat retention aids, (such as raised beds, cloches, cold frames and row covers), will also help.

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