How do I tell when soil is ready for planting? - Erie News Now | WICU & WSEE in Erie, PA

How do I tell when soil is ready for planting?

By Stephanie Cohen

Q. I'd like to start spring planting in my backyard. But how do I tell when the soil is ready, and what are the first things I should do?

A. Now that it's spring, everyone is impatient to see something green and can't wait to plant. But before you start digging, make sure the time is right. First, find out your plant hardiness zone (go to and enter your zip code), then determine the last frost date in your area. (Look it up by zone at All annuals and tropicals can be planted after that date.

You can plant trees, shrubs and perennials as soon as the soil warms up. That means when the cold weather is diminishing, and you're certain there will be no more snow. Some good signs to look for include buds on the trees, shrubs that have started to swell and grass that has begun to green up. But don't plant anything until you've performed a soil test (available at garden centers). Chances are, you'll need to boost your soil quality before planting. To do this, you can add amendments like yard waste compost, mushroom compost, aged animal manure or leaf mold, for example.

If you have additional questions about planting or gardening in your particular area, contact your local cooperative extension service, where you can get expert advice. Go to to find the one closest to you. Happy gardening! 

Award-winning horticulturist Stephanie Cohen is a former director of the Landscape Arboretum at Temple University in Ambler, Penn., and co-author of The Nonstop Garden: A Step-by-Step Guide to Smart Plant Choices and Four-Season Designs.

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