To till or not to till? As a controversy among gardeners – that is the question. While some rely on cultivating for lighter, weed-free soil, others claim soil will be healthier if you leave it alone. Who are we supposed to believe?
Let’s start with the major benefits of tilling, which include aerating the soil, killing weeds, and mixing in organic materials and fertilizers. These can all be achieved through correctly tilling your garden. Tilling soil is useful especially in new gardens or those low in organic matter. In this case, take about 3-6 inches of compost and till it into the soil with a tiller or rototiller. This helps create a deeper soil in which plants can spread their roots and grow. Organic matter is able to break down when it is under the soil surface.
Others believe in a no-till gardening strategy, saying that tilling can make garden issues worse. These gardeners speculate that organic matter is better left on the surface of the soil. If not done correctly, tilling can lead to further spreading and sewing of weed seeds.
Be sure you are properly caring for your garden. Here are some best practices when tilling:
Add in organic matter every time
Try using leaves, shredded bark, grass clippings or compost, as these will help change the soil structure and lead to a healthier garden over time.
Only till warm soil
Tilling will be easier and more beneficial after the ground completely thaws. You should also avoid tilling wet soil, as it compacts more easily.
Over-tilling can lead to compacting the soil instead of aerating and mixing. Go slowly and pay attention to avoid this. Setting the tiller depth slightly higher will allow you to till an area more than once, so you can be extra steady and careful.
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