Planting, Transplanting, and Snail Control

Q: Considering that this has been an unusually rainy winter, how may sunny days should we wait before it’s safe to work the soil? Do we need extra fertilizer? What should we do differently? What can stay the same?
– Michael Bloodworth, Valley Glen
A: There are so many different soil types, some draining fast and some barely draining at all, that it would be impossible to make a general statement about how long to wait before you can work the soil after our heavy rains.
It also depends on what you are planting. For instance, if you just want to sprinkle small flower or vegetable seeds over the soil surface, you can do so just about any time, since no digging is required. Just make sure to cover the seeds with a thin layer of moist peat moss or compost so they do not dry out, on the one hand, or wash away in a future downpour, on the other.
Or, if you want to plant six packs of flowers or vegetables, and have a narrow, fall-prepared bed set aside for this purpose, you can do so almost as soon as the rain stops, as long as you do your work leaning over the bed so that you do not step on the soil. Since you will not be treading on the soil or digging it up in a major way, no soil compaction should occur.
Even if you want to prepare the soil comprehensively, you can minimize the wait time through liberal application of soil amendments. By working lots of amendments into the soil, especially if you stay in the top six inches and are just planting vegetables, annuals or herbaceous perennials from containers no larger than 1-gallon size, you should be able to make the ground fluffy enough so that roots will not be stymied by compacted soil. The general recommendation is to incorporate 8 cubic feet of amendment or compost per 100 square feet of planting area. As for fertilization, fill up a regular, 13-ounce size coffee container with the fertilizer of your choice, as long as none of its ingredients exceeds a concentration of 15 percent, and work it into the soil to the depth of your plants’ roots.
Snails and slugs are pests that may be more problematic than usual because of the excessively succulent plant growth – especially favored by these mollusks – that is sure to follow our heavy rains. The only way of excluding snails and slugs with near 100 percent effectiveness is to wrap a band or strip of copper around each of your beds. The strip should protrude 2 inches above the ground and have a flange bent back. Snails receive an electric shock when they make contact with the copper. Sluggo and Escar-go are iron phosphate baits that are more expensive but less toxic than the more common metaldehyde baits. Anectdotally, I have noticed over the years that nonhygienic gardens are typically free of snails. In such gardens, leaf blowers are never used and even rakes are used sparingly, with large numbers of leaves left just where they fall, eventually decomposing into the earth.
Q: I found a California oak growing in my front garden. It’s about 5 feet tall and I would like to transplant it. Is this good for the oak?
– Cynthia Marks, Chatsworth
A: Transplanting an oak is not a simple task, but it can be done. You should dig up as large a block of soil as you are physically able to dig and carry so that a minimum of the oak’s roots are exposed. Actually, the fact that it just rained and the soil is a bit stickier than usual could work to your advantage. It might be easier now than later to cut out or dig up a large block of soil that would include all or most of your oak’s roots.
It is also advisable to water in a product containing root hormone, such as Superthrive, after transplanting, and to continue use of such a product each time you water until the tree has established itself in its new location.
Before digging up your transplant, dig the hole where it is to be placed. That way, you can immediately place and water your transplant, minimizing its shock. If you have to carry or move your transplant a long ways, its root ball should be wrapped in burlap and tied up to protect it from crumbling apart before it reaches its destination.

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