Garden Dirt – Preparing Your Garden Soil

To help plants grow faster, become stronger and healthier, and become quickly established, it is important to improve the soil. There are different ways to prepare your garden dirt for spring planting, but generally the best way to improve the soil condition is to add organic material such as straw, grass clippings and leaves. A good soil is 50% solids and 50% porous space, which provides room for water, air, and plant roots.


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Preparing Your Garden Soil

1. Perform a soil test.

To determine the type of soil of your garden area, a soil test is recommended. The test will aid in determining the plants most suitable for your garden as well as indicate the lacking nutrients that desired plants require.

The test will indicate the pH level in the soil (alkaline or acidic pH) as well as levels of nutrients and minerals.

You can do that with a home testing kit or by sending a soil sample to an agricultural lab.

2. Remove all the weeds.

The garden area should be free of weeds. Pull out all weeds before adding anything to the garden soil. Make sure to grab each weed as close to the root as possible and tug upward rapidly to unearth it. A thick layer of mulch should be placed on top of the soil to retain moisture and help prevent weed germination.

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3. Add manure in the fall.

Choose manure that has been sterilized. You can purchase this type of manure from agricultural outlets and most home improvement store garden departments. Most stables have a huge pile of this stuff sitting around and are happy to let you truck it off for them.

Spread a thin layer of manure atop the garden dirt and till it with a gardening fork. Adding manure in the fall is better than the spring because this manure might be chemically “hot” and burn your plants if you put it straight on your plantings.

If the manure still has a strong yucky smell I would be cautious about where you put it. Finished compost and composted manure shouldn’t smell bad. However, if added to the soil before planting, the manure has a chance to fade as it enriches the soil over the winter.

4. Mix compost in with the soil.

What should you add to your soil now? Compost!

Add a couple inches of composted material in with the soil. If you have your own compost pile, use the material from the bottom to add into the garden. Compost taken from the bottom is the most decomposed and highest in nutrients.

You can pick up compost from your city or township if your locality offers composting services to residents.

5. Incorporate dead leaves into garden dirt.

Another great thing to add to your garden dirt is leaves. Composted leaves can be a great soil amendment. The trick is getting them to stay where you want them and not blow around.

If you have a chipper you can put them through that and then spread them directly over your beds. You can also run over them with a lawn mower to break them up before spreading them.

6. Incorporate mulch into garden dirt.

Buy mulch from a local garden center. Mulch can be purchased in large bags. It is a substance that conserves moisture and prevents erosion. It is usually the last layer on top of garden soil.

Mulch is usually the last layer on top of garden soil. After that you should fork over the soil to burst apart any clumps of dirt. Tilling the soil in this manner promotes aeration and prevents the dirt from drying out.

7. Solarizing destroys soil-borne disease and sterilizes the soil.

In early spring place a sheet of black gardening plastic (available at local nurseries) over the garden area and hold the corners down with rocks or mounds of soil. Leave the plastic on for a few weeks to two months.

The sun heats the black plastic, the heat is transferred to the soil under the plastic, and the temperature of the soil is raised – destroying any soil-borne disease. Then, the plastic may be removed and the soil planted.