“As Soon As The Soil Can Be Worked”

Sometimes new gardeners need help interpreting and deciphering the back of a seed pack or a garden catalog.
It seems like the information or directions should be forthright and easy to understand but that’s not always the case.

There are a few terms and concepts that may be encountered in garden catalogs and on seed packets that can leave the novice gardener befuddled and in need of a more detailed explanation.
The statement below is most often found on the back of seed packets for early spring flowers or vegetables like peas or pansies and other early spring plants that are typically direct sown into the garden.

The expression “as soon as the soil can be worked” can confuse an inexperienced gardener.

“As soon as the soil can be worked” is a statement about soil condition and not about any particular day on the calendar.
Soil can be worked and seeds planted when it’s no longer wet or sticky. When your garden can be worked will depend upon what type of soil you have.
Your soil maybe different from that of your neighbor’s. So just because his garden is being planted does not mean that you should plant yours too.
Sandy soil will always be able to be planted sooner than clay type soils.
Whatever you do don’t disturb the ground before it is ready.
You’ll ruin the soil structure.

To test if your soil is ready for planting,  grab a fist full of soil into your hand and squeeze it together into a semi conical or oblong shape.

If the soil is a little crumbly and will readily fall apart – it’s ready to go.


Sometimes the soil can be on the borderline between too wet and dry.
And it’s a flip of the coin whether or not to chance planting. The photo below shows soil that is almost too wet.

So whether or not to plant that day would be determined by the weather.
If the weather looked like it was going to be warm and dry for the next few days I would plant. But if the weather look like it was going to be cool and rainy – absolutely not. The seeds planted under those conditions would just rot in the ground and I’d have to replant.

Now if the soil sticks together like a big turd (very earthy old-time garden analogy) – it’s still too wet. You need to wait for it to dry out more.

With gardening as with most things in life, no harm ever comes from waiting and working with Nature.
If you jump the gun and disturb the soil too early you and ruin the soil structure and you’ll pay the Devil to get it fit again.

Katherine Grossman

Katherine Grossman was born and raised in the greater Washington, D.C area. But for the last 30 years Mrs. Grossman has lived a life of deliberate self-reliance in rural western Pennsylvania. She loves to garden, knit mittens; makes a killer meatloaf and has been known to deliver triplet lambs with her eyes closed.