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Why can't you 'work' wet soil?

Posted by drayven (My Page) on
Wed, Feb 11, 09 at 18:15

I have been reading a lot material about soil and prepping it for a garden and I keep coming across the warning that you should never work wet soil. One website went as far as to say that doing so could hurt the dirt "structure" for up to 20 years!
Try as I might I cannot think of a reason why digging and mixing wet soil would be any different than dry soil. What am I missing?

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Why can't you 'work' wet soil?

Found this from a site

" Working wet soil will pack soil particles tightly, leaving less room for water and air to penetrate. Compacted soil also makes it more difficult for plant roots and gardening equipment to move through the soil. The compression forms tight clumps of soil that become hard as rocks upon drying and are difficult to break up. In addition to making it difficult for plants to grow, compacted soils also tend to drain more slowly, in turn delaying the ability to work the soil after the next rainfall.

Once compacted, it will take many years to rebuild a healthy soil structure, requiring annual applications of organic matter, such composted plant and animal wastes or perhaps growing a green manure crop, such as annual rye or winter wheat. "

Not sure how true this is though

Here is a link that might be useful: Resist the urge to work wet soil

RE: Why can't you 'work' wet soil?

The above post is very true I tilled my garden on the wet end last year when it finally dried up it was hard as a rock when it started raining the water just sat on top
it is pretty heavy clay here

RE: Why can't you 'work' wet soil?

The simple answer is that working it when wet drives all the air and air passages out of the soil. That's what they were saying above. Adobe bricks are made by driving the air out of a soupy clay/dirt mixed with grass. Wet concrete is tumbled, churned, or mixed to drive air out.

Soil that has been worked when wet is MY definition of compacted soil. Farmers call it 'pugged,' when animals meander around the edge of a pond and plunge their feet into the saturated soil.

Simply walking on dry soil does not compact it in my opinion. It only settles it.

RE: Why can't you 'work' wet soil?

Ahhh...This actually makes a lot of sense now. I was thinking in terms of chemical reactions, not physical changes in the actual structure.
Thank you all for the explanation. The scary thing is I was going to spray down the garden bed with water to make the tilling "easier" before I found out about this.

RE: Why can't you 'work' wet soil?

While soil does need to be moist to be workable, working wet soil, as has already been well described, is bad. A simple method to determine if your soil is "workable" is to take a handfull of that soil and squeeze it tightly and then poke that clump with your finger. If that clump then falls apart it is workable. If the clump stays together the soil is too wet. If that soil will not clump together it is too dry to work.

RE: Why can't you 'work' wet soil?

In a similar vein, you don't want to work bone dry soil either as you'll pulverize the peds which will reduce the void spaces in the soil volume.

Oops, just realized Kimmsr said something similar.

On the lighter side....

  • Posted by pt03 3 Southern Manitoba (My Page) on
    Sat, Feb 14, 09 at 9:55

This is not me but I've done something similar.


RE: Why can't you 'work' wet soil?

Hilarious! There's an old saying that goes like this...IT'S TOO WET TO PLOW.

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