How to handle spring rains

weather forecast

I’m eager to get things in the ground, but this week isn’t really complying. Look at that forecast – look at that rain! April’s rains can have a way of halting the best-laid plans of gardeners. Let’s talk about what you can do during those rainstorms to advance your outdoor plans.

What to avoid during a rainy week


Tilling the ground: if you’re working over a new plot of ground, sodbusting, working in amendments… this isn’t your week. The reason is that tilling can compact the earth when the dirt is wet. If you grab a ball of dirt and squeeze it, the dirt should crumble out of it. That’s how you know you can till. If it turns into some dirt clod you’d throw at the side of a house, wait a few days. And yes, I think there are good times to till and no, we aren’t getting into it today, permaculturists.

Planting fine seeds: those tiny lettuce or radish seeds will simply wash away in a rainstorm like these. The repeated rains will take those buoyant seeds downstream. Due to how shallowly we plant these seeds, it’s better to wait and not expose them to rain. Remember that a raindrop falling from several thousand feet has considerable force in it; it can splash away cradling dirt and send our neat rows scattering.

Spreading compost and fertilizers: the many nutrients in your soil amendments are mostly water-soluble. With the exception of phosphorus, the rest will dissolve away in a rush of water. Nitrogen is already easily leached out and your dark leafy greens will want that in the soil come July.

How to make the best of the rains


Spread some mulch onto bare spots: your poor soil has been waiting all winter, exposed to snows and wind. The water is going to strip away fine nutrients and topsoil unless it’s got something to slow it down. Nature accomplishes this with roots, leaf litter, grass and more. If you’ve got bare spots in your garden, keep the soil where it needs to be with a coating of mulch, leaves or straw. It doesn’t need to be permanent! Just usher it through the next few weeks and you’ll have the advantage of preventing early spring weeds from cropping up, too.

Plant large seeds to get an early start: Seeds like beans and peas are large enough that they won’t wash away. They benefit from being planted “as soon as the ground can be worked” and I always gamble with a few in the earth before the frost date. Pick a sunny spot, get ’em in the ground and cover them over for the time being with a little bit of mulch or protection.

Plot out your garden rows (for real this time): as soon as that rain lifts, it’s time to get things in the ground. Can you plant seeds into starter pots or flats to get going already? Do you know what will shade out other plants? What crops grow well together? If you pick lettuces early, what will you sow in their place? This is where the last minute planting, transplanting and planning happens. Get your rows drawn out and dream of a bright, sunny, dry day to get them complete!