Though our winter has generally been rather pleasant by Calgary standards, it is not quite over yet either. With the days gradually lengthening, there is a temptation to believe in a “false spring” and begin working the soil far too early.
At Mirage Landscaping of Calgary, our three generations of experience in commercial and personal landscaping means each mild spring we worry about early budding plants being fooled by milder temperatures. Historically, winter has not had its last say!
When To Dig For Planting?
The first hard and fast rule for digging for pretty much any purpose around Calgary is to NOT dig while we are still having overnight hard freezes. It should go without saying that if digging out a trench for sprinkler pipe is made far more difficult by frozen or partially thawed ground, digging for the planting of seeds and transplants is even more unnecessary at this time.
No matter how warm the daytime temperatures are getting, if our overnight lows are still plunging below zero Celsius on a regular basis, you risk killing anything you plant. There is simply still too much retained moisture in the soil, moisture that will refreeze hard with any prolonged dip below zero.
To avoid a “killing frost” you need to be patient and wait until you are reasonably assured of no more overnight freezes being in the forecast. Generally in Calgary, that means waiting until after the May long weekend.
The other danger of planting in soil with too high water content is that of soil compaction. Soil that is too wet, especially with a percentage of clay in the mix, will act like potter’s clay more than like dirt. Any kind of pressure from above, like tamping down with a trowel, can drive these soil compositions to settle around the roots and prevent satisfactory air from reaching the roots. Plants not only fix nitrogen from fertilizer inputs, they fix it from the air too.
Soil compaction also limits the value of future watering. If you plant into wet and clumpy soil too early in the season, you will see these large pieces of bonded soil bake in the sunlight into a hard texture that runs off water rather than allowing good permeability.
Evaluating Your Soil
At Mirage Landscaping of Calgary, we have been in the business of spring planting for decades now. There is no substitute for gauging the moisture content of soil than eyeballing its consistency and crumbling it through your fingers, just as farmers have been doing all over the world from time immemorial. Not only do you get a feel for the moisture level, you get the data necessary to determine what amendments the soil may need for optimal growing chances.
As the composition of the soil may be different at various sites around your lawn, you need to perform the following simple test at each place you intend to dig for planting:
- Take a half cup of the soil into your hand.
- Compact it in your palm to form a ball.
- Break the ball. If the soil ball can be easily crumbled from your hand, or it breaks apart readily dropping it from about a meter in height, it is dry enough to dig for planting. If the ball is resistant to breaking or breaks only reluctantly into sizable chunks rather than into loose soil, it is harbouring too much water.
- Work the remains between your fingers. Clay soils with high moisture will feel slick, and can even be extruded from the fingers by pressure. If your clay content is high enough to begin having you contemplate buying a potter’s wheel, contact Mirage Landscaping for a free quote on amending your soil to something more plant friendly.
Consult With Mirage Landscaping of Calgary
At Mirage Landscaping of Calgary, we are experts at spring renewal. Whether your property needs a clean-up of winter debris and left over leaves, or you want us to begin coming by and maintain what you have already done, or you want us to rip out what is there and start over, no job is too big or too small for us to tackle. Residential or commercial, we offer the same excellent service to all of our clients.