How To Prepare Garden Soil for Planting in 7 Simple Steps

Garden 10

When it comes time to put plants in the ground, are you sure your soil is ready for planting? It may seem like a matter of tossing in a few amendments and putting your plants in the earth, but carefully preparing your garden soil is key to having a healthy garden down the road.

Your earth is literally the foundation of your property. Healthy garden soil leads to healthy plants, and healthy plants lead to healthy humans. It’s all part of the circle of life and one of the many things I love about gardening. If your soil isn’t strong, the circle falls apart.

There are a few things you need to do to ensure that your soil is as good as it can be before you stick your spade into the ground. Once you’ve laid out the groundwork, you can get to the fun of planting.

One of the overall garden goals is to build your topsoil. This is the uppermost level of your garden where most of your plant’s roots will be growing and where the majority of nutrients live.

Below, we’ll show you how to make your garden soil as nourishing as possible with 7 easy steps. Keep in mind that you’ll want to start the process at least a month before planting so that you can make all the necessary adjustments in time.

1. Test the Soil

Garden soil pH test stripsGarden soil pH test strips

First things first: do a soil test. Knowing more about your soil will help you to determine what your soil is lacking or has too much of so you can adjust accordingly.

You can purchase an inexpensive soil testing kit from a garden store which will give you some general information. Keep in mind that these tests are not as accurate and don’t include as much info as ones done in a lab.

You can also contact your county extension office. Most extension offices provide low-cost soil testing. These soil tests will let you know your soil’s pH, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash levels as well as the level of organic matter.

2. Add Compost

Compost in a pile ready to add to the garden soilCompost in a pile ready to add to the garden soil

Healthy soil is rich in compost. Composting is an ongoing investment in your garden. It’s like a savings account. You add money – or in this case livestock manure, straw, grass clippings, and weeds. As a result, your compost grows and builds interest and pays dividends. Your dividend is that dark, rich soil conditioner we call compost.

If you haven’t started a composting area, it’s never too late.

But what if you are starting out with gardening and you don’t have the time or materials to develop a compost pile? You can purchase compost from your local garden store. I recommend a mix of compost and peat moss because the peat moss adds texture to the soil.

Once you have your compost, spread 2 inches of it over the area where you intend to plant.

3. Amend Problem Soils

Depending on the texture of the soil that you have, you may want to amend it to make it friendlier to plant life.

Clay soil tends to clump together when wet. This reduces airflow in the soil and can make it hard for roots to grow. For clay earth, add coarse contractors sand (not beach sand), compost, and peat moss until you have an airier, lighter texture.

Sandy soil lets water drain too fast, and nutrients leech out. To fix sandy earth, add several inches of compost and peat moss. If things are really bad, add some sawdust and nitrogen. Sawdust will absorb some of the existing nitrogen in your soil, so you need to boost it a little.

If you have silt soil, add coarse contractor’s sand or pea gravel and lots of compost. Silt doesn’t hold nutrients as well, and it drains poorly.

If you don’t know what kind of soil you have, put some earth in a mason jar and shake it up. The next day, check the jar and you’ll see layers with sand at the bottom, clay on top and silt in the middle. If you have a lot of one type and not another, that’s the type of soil you have.

4. Adjust pH

Now it’s time to put that soil test to work. The soil’s pH tells you the level of acidity and alkalinity in your earth. Why is pH important? Your pH level tells you how available the nutrients in the soil are for your plants. Some plants are particular to what the soil pH is.

For example, say I want to grow potatoes. Potatoes need a lower pH than many other vegetables. They do best in slightly acidic soil of 5.2 – 6.0.

Potatoes growing in a fieldPotatoes growing in a field

Image via Fox Run



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