Soil is an essential part of your garden.
You can have the best plants in the world but without the right soil they will not survive.
That’s why you need to prepare the best garden soil before you can plant in it. This is especially important when you’re starting the garden for the first time.
You want a garden soil that is rich in organic matter. You want it full of nutrients and organisms. And you want a soil that drains well and has good aeration.
Why prepare garden soil?
Soil is the key ingredient to a healthy garden.
You know that. And that’s why it should be your priority to prepare garden soil before use.
There are several components that determine whether your garden soil is good or not.
Part of the garden soil is weathered rock. This is a residue of the rocks that form from natural events like rain, wind, freezing, and thawing.
This residue forms the silt, sand, or clay particles of the soil. It’s best to prepare garden soil that contains about 50 percent of this material.
Your garden soil can be made great when it contains about 25 percent air. This stays in the pores between the soil particles.
The good soil aeration helps plants get nitrogen from the soil. It also helps the essential organisms get oxygen.
It’s important not to compact the soil by walking on it or using heavy equipment. This can compromise the aeration capacity of the soil.
Water is the key to life for plants and organisms in the soil. Your garden soil should contain about 25 percent water. This helps moisture stay in the pores of the soil particles.
You should ensure the moisture in your soil is balanced. You don’t want too much because it will drown the organisms and roots. And you don’t want too little as it will dry out the roots and kill the organisms.
The sign of great garden soil is when it contains about 10 percent organic matter.
This material binds to the sand, silt, clay in the soil and helps create pores for aeration and moisture retention.
This creates the right environment and provides nutrients to the beneficial soil organisms.
These tiny creatures form the soil food web which is essential for great garden soil.
These are organisms like bacteria, fungi, algae, nematodes, earthworms, ants, and spiders.
To thrive in the garden soil, they need air, water, and organic matter in the right amounts.
They help break down the minerals, organic matter, fertilizers, nitrogen. And make them available in a form that is accessible to the plants.
How to know the garden soil type?
The soil in your garden can be sandy, silty, or clay. You can figure out the soil texture of your garden on your own.
Lift a little soil and rub it between your fingers. If the soil is gritty, it’s sandy. This soil type does not retain moisture. It has fewer nutrients and organic matter as well.
The silty soil is slippery when wet and powdery when dry. It does not drain well but has good nutrients and organic matter.
The clay soil is harsh when dry and sticky when wet. It retains a lot of moisture and does not drain well. It becomes hard and cracks when dry.
The soil in your garden could be a mix of these three types. You can improve the soil by amending it with organic matter like compost.
Inspect your soil to check if there are insects and organisms in it. If there are, it means your soil is rich in organic matter.
The color of the soil also indicates the richness in organic matter. The dark brown color is good but pale yellow or brown color means a lack of nutrients and organic matter.
When inspecting garden soil, make sure to take samples from several places that you’ll be growing plants in.
How to check the nutrients in your garden soil?
The nutrients that are essential for a great garden soil are nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. They are also known as macronutrients.
The secondary nutrients important for your garden soil are calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. There are also micronutrients like boron, copper, iron, manganese, and zinc that your garden soil needs.
You can figure out the nutrients in your garden soil with the help of a soil test. You can take the help of your Local Extension Service to get such a test.
This test finds out the macronutrients and micronutrients in the soil. It also helps you know the pH level of your soil. The best range of pH for growing plants falls in the 6.5 to 6.8.
The test will give you the results as well as solutions on how you can improve your soil with the right amendments. The test is inexpensive and you just need to collect some samples from your garden soil and send it.
How to check the moisture in the garden soil?
Moisture is a key component of your garden soil. But too much of it can be a bad thing for growing plants.
Before you start the garden in spring, check the moisture levels in the soil. You can press the soil in your hand and check how wet it is.
If it’s too wet, you can wait for a few more days. You can check every week for the moisture till it’s good enough.
How to remove sod from the garden soil?
If you’re starting a new garden, you’ll need to remove sod from it. If it’s a small garden, you can use your hands to pull it out.
But if it’s a large garden, you can cover the grass with several layers of newspaper. Then add three inches of compost on the top.
This helps the grass break down and add organic matter to the soil. The best time to do this is in the fall so that the soil is ready by next spring.
You can use a shovel and remove the weeds, grass, and roots from the soil. Make sure to dig at least 4 inches deep so the weeds and roots are removed.
You can also use a tiller to dig all these out of the soil and then pick them with your hands. The remaining matter will decompose and add organic matter to the soil.
If the garden is new, you may need to turn the soil at least 12 to 18 inches deep. Then remove the rocks, weeds, roots, debris, plastic, and glass. You can put them in a garbage bag for disposal.
You may need several passes with the tiller so you can get all of these materials out of the garden soil.
How to add organic matter to the garden soil?
If you want to improve the texture, nutrients, and organisms in the soil, you can add organic matter like compost.
This helps retain moisture and ensures good aeration. It also provides the required nutrients to the soil organisms.
Compost is the best organic matter you can add to the soil. You can buy it or create some of your own. It’s easy to create with a mixture of green matter and brown matter.
Green matter includes materials like grass clippings, coffee grounds, and kitchen waste. Brown matter includes materials like dried leaves, wood chips, and hay.
You need to create layers of green and brown materials. Then keep them moist and well-aerated.
It’s best to mix the compost into the soil to a depth of 6 to 12 inches. You can use a digging fork or shovel for this.
Another way is to shovel the soil on a tarp. The mix the compost with the soil. You can then put the soil back into the garden.
Make sure not to use materials like meat, fish, or dairy products in the soil. They will attract pests and critters to your garden.
How to mulch the garden soil?
You’ve seen how to add organic matter to the garden soil. This adds the matter into the soil. There is another way to add matter to the top of the soil. That is by using mulch.
You can choose between organic and inorganic mulch. Organic mulch includes material like grass clippings, straw, hay, and wood chips.
Inorganic material includes things like gravel, plastic, rubber, and fabric.
We suggest using organic material because it works the best and also adds organic matter to the soil.
The mulch helps insulate your garden soil from the heat and cold. It prevents the weed seeds from getting sufficient sunlight to sprout in the garden.
The mulch helps prevent evaporation of moisture from the soil. It protects the soil from erosion and runoff of water.
The organic mulch will slowly decompose and add more organic matter to the garden soil.
You need to apply at least 2-4 inches of organic mulch to get the best benefit from it.
How to add cover crops to your garden soil?
Cover crops are plants you grow in your garden soil. But they’re not for harvest. You grow them to protect your garden soil.
They help protect the soil from erosion that happens when nothing is planted. The cover crops prevent weeds, pests, and diseases from entering the garden soil.
They help improve the soil structure. You can use winter cover crops or summer cover crops. Winter crops are rye, alfalfa. Summer crops are cowpeas, velvet beans.
You need to till them into the soil 2-3 weeks before the next growing season. This helps provide nutrients and organic matter to the soil.
Just make sure you don’t let the cover crops go to seed as they’ll become invasive.
How to add fertilizer to the garden soil?
Once you’ve tested the soil in your garden, you may need to amend it. This helps prepare it for the growing seasons.
The best way to amend garden soil is to add organic matter like compost which enriches the soil every year. However, this is a slow process that may take years.
The quick solution is to use an amendment like fertilizer to provide the missing nutrients to the soil.
You can get organic or synthetic fertilizer. The organic fertilizers are slow release while the synthetic ones are fast release.
The synthetic fertilizers may harm the soil over the long run as they may kill beneficial organisms. They may end up polluting the water as well. That’s why it’s best to stick to organic fertilizers.
The fertilizers will contain macronutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in a particular ratio. This ratio is indicated on the bag as N-P-K values where N stands for nitrogen, P stands for phosphorus, and K stands for potassium.
You can also get dry or liquid organic fertilizers. The dry ones work slower than the liquid ones.
Dry fertilizers could be bat guano, rock phosphate, molasses, ash, and limestone. Liquid fertilizers could be seaweed or fish emulsion, compost tea.
Make sure to use the liquid fertilizer as a foliar spray on the leaves and soil. Ensure to spray on the underside of the leaves where they quickly absorb the nutrients.
How to turn over the garden soil?
You can till the garden soil but it’s best to do only when starting your garden. Tilling brings weed seeds to the top. It also destroys the structure created by organisms. Tilling also affects the microorganisms in the soil.
That’s why it’s best to only use tilling as a way of preparing your garden soil for the first time. Then you can practice no-till gardening to keep improving your soil without disturbing it.
You can take a shovel and remove the weeds, grass, roots from the soil. Dig at least 4 inches deep to get all such material out.
If the garden is new, you need to turn the soil at least 12 to 18 inches. You can remove the rocks, weeds, roots, debris, plastic, and glass. Dispose of them in a garbage bag.
You may need to make several passes with the tiller. Once you’re done cleaning the garden up, you can add organic matter and amendments to the soil.
You can then till the soil again so it gets turned over and everything is mixed well. Ensure this mixes at least the top 6 to 8 inches of the soil.
This is where the feeder roots of your plants will be present. You can lightly water the soil after the turning is over.
It’s important to get your garden soil in the best shape possible before you plant.
The good thing is it’s quite a simple task to do this.
You can begin with the first step of figuring out the type of soil in your garden. Is it silty, sandy, or has clay in it?
Take that first step to prepare your garden soil. And you’ll be growing wonderful plants in no time.
Here are some of my favorite container gardening tools
Thank you for reading this post. I hope it helps you with your gardening needs. I’ve listed some tools below that can help you with container gardening. These are affiliate links so I’ll earn a commission if you use them.
Gardening Gloves – I find the Pine Tree Tools Bamboo Gardening Gloves really good for both men and women. It’s made from bamboo so helps absorb perspiration. They are also comfortable and fit very well.
Containers – You know picking the right container is crucial for your container gardening. I’ve written a detailed post on the best containers you can choose from. If you’re happy with a plastic container, you can check out the Bloem Saturn Planter.
Watering Can – This is a must-have tool when you’re growing plants in pots or grow bags. It helps to water the potting soil without splashing on the foliage. The Kensington Watering Can is stylish, strong, and can provide precision when watering potted plants.
Trowel – Garden Guru Trowel is my favorite because it’s durable and comfortable to use. My gardening friends really love having a trowel because they use it for digging soil, mixing fertilizer, moving seeds, leveling out the soil, mixing compost or mulch, and also dividing tubers
Bypass Pruner – I really like the Corona Bypass Pruner because it’s durable and gives a clean cut that helps plants recover faster. If you’re looking for something cheap, get the Fiskars Bypass Pruner that is really good as well.
To see an extensive list of the best container gardening tools gardeners recommend, check out this resource that I made for you.
Kevin is the founder of Gardening Mentor, a website that aims to teach people to grow their own food in a limited space. As a self-taught gardener, Kevin has spent several years growing plants and creating gardening content on the website. He is certified in Home Horticulture and Organic Gardening by expert gardeners from Oregon State University.