With all the things on your to-do list this spring, you may be tempted to put certain tasks, like tilling the garden, lower on the list. Can you get by without tilling this year? The answer is no, because this process is as essential to getting your garden ready as sowing seeds. If you omit this step, not only will your plants be at a disadvantage but you are likely to have issues with weed control throughout the growing season.

Why You Should Till

Tilling is an ancient technique that has persisted because it has been proven to work, year after year. The practice has many benefits:

  • Weed control. Tilling kills weeds by breaking up their roots and putting their leaves underground, away from sunlight.
  • Aeration. Although plant leaves require carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, roots need spaces in the soil filled with oxygen so that they can metabolize nutrients.
  • Mixing topsoil. Turning over the soil allows the nutrient-rich hummus, topsoil, or applied fertilizer to reach lower layers where it is available to roots.
  • Killing nematodes. Nematode pests are killed and kept from breeding by the disruption of their underground habitat.

When To Till

Let your garden rest during the winter and till it in the spring. Although the official first day of spring in our hemisphere is April 21, the growing season for plants depends on latitude. In southern states you may to till in March when the orange blossoms are blooming, but up north you may have to wait until the trout lilies bloom in May or June. The ground should be dry and hard, and a shovel should not penetrate easily at first. Tilling when the ground is wet can cause soil to clump together and make it harder for roots and tiny seedlings to navigate their way between soil particles.

How To Till

Historically, people have tilled with the technology available to them. Branches pulled by hand and wooden plows pulled by horses or oxen are examples of methods used by ancient civilizations. The invention of the plow in the 1800s changed everything for farmers, allowing them to till substantial tracts of land with minimal effort.

Today this technology is available to home gardeners in the form of tillers and cultivators. Tillers are simple to use and are powerful enough to use on a new garden plot covered in turf grass. Start the engine and propel the tiller in parallel lines across your garden, up to a depth of 18 inches. If the soil is still full of large clumps, you can go over it again in lines perpendicular to your original paths. It is usually not recommended to make more than two or three passes, because you risk destroying the structure of the soil's microbiome.

Don't neglect the value of tilling this spring. Check out the selection of tillers available at Peavey Mart so that your garden can enjoy the benefits.