To Till or Not to Till your Garden

There is a debate that rages in gardening circles each year around this time. It’s a hot one, and it pits expert against expert on the topic of tilling. Yes, tilling is THAT hot! To till or not to till the garden soil each spring, that is the issue.

Here at Stockslagers garden center, we aren’t going to advocate for one side over the other. We simply want to share with you the pros and cons of each side.

Let’s start with tilling the soil. Some gardeners get out there with their rototillers and get to work stirring up the dirt for many reasons, some of which can be beneficial to the soil. First, tilling can aerate the soil if it is compacted. Be forewarned, do not till when the soil is primarily wet and clumpy as this may lead to soil compaction. TILLING TIP: Till only when the soil is dry and falls apart in your hand when squeezed. You can also mix in organic materials if your soil needs such additions. Be sure to choose the correct materials to till into your soil. For example, choosing hay over straw will only introduce wheat and weed seed into your garden. You can also till the garden to break up the clay and chop up weeds. Tilling materials into your clay soil such as sand will likely create concrete so be careful. And tilling up the weeds in your garden may cause them to come back even stronger.

The weed issue leads directly into the argument for NOT tilling your garden. Instead of tilling the weeds into the soil, pull the weeds from the base and try to get the roots up. That will reduce the chance the weed will regenerate. Yes, cut weeds will likely turn into new weeds. Other experts argue that the soil is already aerated by the creepy crawlies and worms that have created a home in your soil. Tilling will only disturb the delicate soil structure that the worms have created. In addition the argument is often made that tilling actually only disturbs the first shallow layer, leaving the lower layer compacted and more difficult for the roots to penetrate. No one wants shallow roots!

In general, we all strive for the perfect soil with proper amounts of organic material in it. If you have it, stay away from tilling. If you need to till, do so with all the precautions we have detailed for you. As always, stop in or call Stockslagers garden center to understand all the issues in the great tilling debate.

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