In the Garden with Felder: Digging Fever


I have the digging fever again, which is handy in my summer- and winter-ravaged garden. Like many of you, I have some stuff to replace, and I want to do it right once and for all. With as little effort as possible. 

Seems like I write every year about digging in the dirt, but that is what seasoned gardeners who want the most from our plants do best, helping roots grow fast and strong without adding extra work for ourselves. 

And yeah, like mowing the lawn, or the children tune’s itsy-bits spider repeatedly climbing up the water spout, it’s a never-ending Sisyphean effort.

But the warmer, sunny days and plethora of spring flowers have plumped up my light-starved pineal gland and jump-started by warm-season circadian rhythm. I’m not medically trained, but I know that the gland, about the size of a grain of rice, is light sensitive and releases melatonin during dark spells to make us sleepy, and releases less as days get longer. Ancient Greeks believed it to be a valve, a guardian for the flow of our spiritual breath, the "seat of the soul." 

Whatever. I’m flush with hormonal-driven get-up-and-go Spring fever; luckily my brain, after decades of its logic fooled by feel-good juices, overrode my senses long enough to just say no to early planting. I managed to put off planting summer stuff until April, when the soil and rain temperatures will be dependably warm.

I already started a few seedlings and bought some hard-to-find summer annuals such as African Blue basil (my top pollinator plant) and Cuban oregano. I see garden centers stocking up on compact zinnias, Angelonia, and other heat- and drought-tolerant plants as well.

So, taking advantage of the cool weather and a bit of time before needing to actually plant stuff, and while the soil is moist enough to turn over easily, it’s time to dig while the digging is good.

Last November I wrote about how I helped my grown daughter make a sweet little raised bed garden, assuring her it would be easier to replant in the spring. And it worked. We basically set out wood frames, dug the native dirt that was inside them a solid shovel deep, then added fresh soil mix to that. Covered it with bark mulch, planted for winter, and now she is ready to start replacing cool season stuff with summer plants. And now it’s like digging into chocolate cake. 

Every single time I plant or replant anything, I always dig holes or beds a solid shovel deep and extra wide so roots can grow outward quickly, and just stir in a little organic matter like bark, compost, manure, or cheap potting soil to that, and cover it with mulch. When I set plants out, no matter how big or small, I always loosen potting soil and roots so they can spread quickly into their new earth. 

Side note: last summer’s drought did a number on earthworms in my garden. There is a dearth of soil critters where I usually find big beefy night crawlers in abundance. They’ll be back, I’m sure. 

So, in existing flower beds and containers, I’m reworking the dirt as deep as I can without getting ridiculous, digging in old mulch, strewing a little fertilizer, and topping it with fresh mulch. In my raised bed I am turning crimson clover I sowed last fall deep into the soil, to feed what few worms there are making a come-back. 

Not rocket science, but shovel power. Once it is done well, it is easy to keep it going with very little effort. Again. 

Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to