Soil and Compost forum: why is it recommended to NOT plant in wet soil?

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Name: ellenr
New Jersey, USA (Zone 7a)
ellenr22
May 17, 2018 6:53 AM CST
I know it is said that it breaks the soil structure.
but can anyone explain more comprehensively?
I am weighing planting my bought plants soon as the rain stops - bec. they are very over-due to be in the ground--
but it has been raining for a long time, and the soil is going to be very wet.
So I am wondering as far as planting an annual is it really a difference if the soil is very wet?

or maybe the adage refers to not tilling a large area when it is wet?

thank you.
Name: Anna Z.
Monroe, WI
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AnnaZ
May 17, 2018 6:55 AM CST
Well, I'd say that when it gets dried out, it will get hard. That's what would happen if we planted field crops (corn, etc) when it's still too wet.
Name: Larry
Enterprise, Al. 36330 (Zone 8b)
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Seedfork
May 18, 2018 12:33 PM CST
The only two things that come to mind are compaction and rot. It is very possible that treading back and forth on wet soil can cause compaction. But if you are just going out and planting a few annuals I don't see that as a problem.
Rot, it is possible that by planting in wet soil and especially on hot days maybe rot could be a problem. I have done lots of planting on wet days and have had few problems.
I would think that as long as the soil is not a mud pie, you should be alright. If you don't have good drainage it could be a problem.
I do hate it when articles and books give rules like "don't plant in wet soil", but don't follow up with the reasons for not planting in wet soil, etc.
Name: ellenr
New Jersey, USA (Zone 7a)
ellenr22
May 19, 2018 4:21 AM CST
I have been researching, and what I understand is that if one plants in wet soil, when the soil dries, it will harden and be more compacted than if one planted in dry.
But faced with rain til Wed. I took a chance a couple of days ago in a break and planted a couple of annuals, and if there is another break I will plant some more.
While trying not to step on soil that will be planted later, bec. that will cause compaction.

here are some things I found which make sense to me:.
1. "Tilling and soil health go hand in hand when they are accomplished on dry soils. This beneficial mechanical process brings in air, water and nutrients to needy roots. Tilling wet soil squeezes together soil particles and inhibits seed germination and young root growth. At a minimum you'll have to till again when the soil dries out. In the worst case scenario, you will have to add organic matter, gritty materials or even plant a winter cover crop to help break up the pressurized particles."

Read more at Gardening Know How: Avoiding Wet Soil Tilling: Optimum Water Content For Tillage https://www.gardeningknowhow.c...

2." When tilled wet, many soils slab into large blocks, keeping the root system of growing weeds intact and allowing them to continue growth. Larger clods on the soil surface may require a secondary tillage pass before the soil is acceptable for planter operation. "

These both refer to larger operations than mine tho.
Hope this helps anyone else with same question. I tip my hat to you.
[Last edited by ellenr22 - May 19, 2018 4:22 AM (+)]
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Name: Larry
Enterprise, Al. 36330 (Zone 8b)
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Seedfork
May 19, 2018 5:44 AM CST
Tilling is often not recommended as being good for the soil at all, wet or dry. I used to own a tiller and thought it was a necessary gardening tool. I have not tilled my garden here in almost twenty years. There are tons of articles out there about no till gardening and why it is better, there are tons of articles about tilling a garden and why it is better...that is just how it is in the gardening world.
Name: ellenr
New Jersey, USA (Zone 7a)
ellenr22
May 19, 2018 6:19 AM CST
Yes. I am persuaded by the no-till arguments.

I believe it breaks the soil structure and disturbs the mini organisms.

I make raised beds. Altho sometimes I do dig up about 4-5 inches in order to mix in soil amendments, so I guess I till to some extent.


Seedfork said:Tilling is often not recommended as being good for the soil at all, wet or dry. I used to own a tiller and thought it was a necessary gardening tool. I have not tilled my garden here in almost twenty years. There are tons of articles out there about no till gardening and why it is better, there are tons of articles about tilling a garden and why it is better...that is just how it is in the gardening world.


Name: Anna Z.
Monroe, WI
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AnnaZ
May 19, 2018 6:25 AM CST
My hubby did lots of no-till and minimum tillage when we still farmed. BUT..............that being said, he also utilized chemical weed control. A necessity.........and I'm sure that I'll be chastised for that. He did a good job managing, and he got good yields. No reason you couldn't do "no-till" in a garden; it would just take judicious hoing and weed pulling. Or mulching, I guess, to keep weeds down.
canada 4b (Zone 8a)
Dirtmechanic
Oct 5, 2018 11:00 PM CST
It depends on your soil. No till efforts in our clay are problematic. That said, the hard pan horizon created under the till zone in our clay is problematic. I add organic matter in the tilled area for all the usual reasons but the only thing I have ever seen break up the deeper soil is molasses, which of course leads to fungal hyphae that pull water up to the oxygenated zones.
Name: tfc
North Central TX (Zone 8a)
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tx_flower_child
Oct 6, 2018 11:32 AM CST
Fungal hyphae?
canada 4b (Zone 8a)
Dirtmechanic
Oct 24, 2018 11:44 PM CST
tx_flower_child said:Fungal hyphae?

The roots of fungi are extensive, and they dive deep. People phrase it funny when they say esoteric and mysterious things like " roots pull up nutrients". Water and Oxygen are the 2 biggest nutrients of all. The oxygen is mainly interacting in the top 2 inches of soil, as is the heat of the sun. The fungal root system as well as the plant root systems are drawing up to that area where growth is occuring. Endo (inside the plant roots) and ecto (outside the plant roots) morphic fungal hyphae (roots) participate in this root structure. There are even bacteria like the misnamed ray fungus (antibiotic like mycostop or actinovate products) that make these root structures. When I use molasses, the end result is a fungal root system drawing water up to where the food and heat energy is also available and it is all aimed at consuming the molasses or the bacteria that start early on the molasses. The dead bodies become organic matter. The water softens the soil and the tilling hardpan. A rate of 4 gallons molasses per acre per year is enough around here. Not too much or fungi will run rampant and become a pathogenic issue.

The original OP wanted to know why not plant in wet soil, well lack of oxygen is a main reason. Too much of a good thing, water. Maybe try hill rows if drainage is a problem, or with more labor, raised beds.
[Last edited by Dirtmechanic - Oct 24, 2018 11:58 PM (+)]
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Portland, Oregon (Zone 7b)
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Sallymander
Aug 23, 2019 9:12 AM CST
ellenr22 said:I know it is said that it breaks the soil structure.
but can anyone explain more comprehensively?
I am weighing planting my bought plants soon as the rain stops - bec. they are very over-due to be in the ground--
but it has been raining for a long time, and the soil is going to be very wet.
So I am wondering as far as planting an annual is it really a difference if the soil is very wet?

or maybe the adage refers to not tilling a large area when it is wet?

thank you.


I think it depends on what you are planting. I plant in wet soil all the time. In fact, if the soil isn't wet, I make it wet when I go to plant. There's a difference between planting trees and shrubs and planting a vegetable garden. There is also a difference between damp, moist, wet and water logged soil. Typically, farmers don't plant when the ground is wet because it is too difficult to plow the ground. Home gardeners might have different methods of tilling, or not tilling, and follow different guidelines.
Name: Larry
Enterprise, Al. 36330 (Zone 8b)
Composter Daylilies Garden Photography Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Identifier
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Seedfork
Aug 23, 2019 10:39 AM CST
I also think a lot depends on the type of soil you have. My soil is a sandy loam in many places and it drains very quickly and I can not tell planting when it is wet affects the structure at all. Other parts of my garden are made up mostly of organic matter I have added, so again, I have no problem when planting when that it wet. But, when I did have thick clay soil, I would not even think of planting when the soil was wet. This is just my thoughts but I think of compacting wet clay when planting as pushing all the air out of it and collapsing all the pores(spaces between the small grains of soil) . Of course I would not plant in any soil if there was standing water.

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