As Jean de La Fontaine so aptly said in The Hare and the Tortoise, “There’s no point in running; you have to start on time.” With the start of warm, sunny spring days and the disappearance of the snow, we all feel like jumping into our garden. Instead, I suggest enjoying a soak in the sun with an herbal tea or a beer. And I’m saying this because I’m lazy!
When I worked in landscaping, I always preferred to wait until the end of May before starting any major landscaping work, and not because I didn’t want to work (although I loved the off-season). Instead, we focused on small repairs or finishing work early in the season. This was partly because once the big construction jobs start, it’s hard to stop! But it’s also because the use of heavy machinery at the beginning of the season can cause irreparable damage to the soil. And soil is the foundation of your garden!
Truckers and heavy vehicle operators, as well as their partners, including landscapers, know that in Quebec we must respect the thaw period. Our soils can freeze to a depth of up to 10 ft during the winter. In the spring, the soil enters a cycle of freezing and thawing that weakens it. For this reason, the Ministère des Transports et de la Mobilité durable asks heavy vehicles to reduce their load to protect our road network. This thaw period extends from March or April to May or June depending on the region, the weather and the depth of the year’s freeze.
In addition, the ground is very wet at this time of year which can also affect our soils. We often hear that farmers have to wait until their fields are dry before they can work them. Compacted soil reduces water circulation and drainage, contains less oxygen and makes it more difficult for roots to grow.
I Am Not a Tractor
I know you don’t weigh as much as a tractor or a 12-wheeler, but your feet can still damage your soil when it is waterlogged as it is in the spring, just like heavy machinery. The effect is similar, but not as deep: degradation of the soil structure, which makes life more difficult for your plants, but also for the microbial life that lies under the soil.
This also applies to your lawn. Wait until your lawn is dry before walking on it. Otherwise, you could permanently damage the soil. By the way, you don’t need to rake the lawn in the spring to remove organic debris unless it has built up and forms an impenetrable mat. Normally, any mowing or leaf residue will decompose and feed the soil and the grasses in it.
Trees and Compaction
If you need to do heavy work on your home, regardless of the season, be sure not to compact the soil around the trees. When heavy equipment travels over your property, it can compact the soil deep down, which will have a negative impact on your trees. The effect may not be felt immediately, but 5 or 10 years later, having difficulty producing new roots or getting water, a tree may begin to lose leaves and branches or even die.
There are mitigating measures to counteract soil compaction around trees, the first of which is not to drive near them unless you have to. A temporary fence should be erected around any tree that is in a work zone. If you have no choice, geotextile or plywood can be laid and a 12″ layer of organic mulch or crushed stone added to absorb the impact of traffic.
Many municipalities have bylaws that regulate work around trees. Make sure that any contractor working on your property complies with them. Depending on the size of the tree, avoid traffic within 5 to 10 feet of the trunk, or under the canopy.
How to Avoid Compaction?
In your flower beds or vegetable garden, there are two easy ways to reduce soil compaction. The first is to use an organic mulch or to leave dead leaves in your garden. The mulch will absorb the impact of your footsteps, just as it does with machinery. In fact, soils with a high organic content are less likely to compact. Think of the bouncy floor of a forest!
The other option is to place stepping stones in your garden. This will concentrate the steps in the same places. I suggest placing these stones throughout your garden to give access to each area. You can even put them in your lawn to prevent trampling in high traffic areas.
I don’t encourage laziness for the sake of laziness, although it brings me great enjoyment, but because often it is better to wait for the right moment. The race is not always to the swift!