Ideas & Inspiration

How to Prepare Soil for a Garden

Conduct a Soil Test
A gardener testing soil with a kit

A soil test measures how acidic or alkaline your soil is. If yours has too much of either, plants won’t absorb the nutrients they need. Most plants grow best when the soil pH is in near-neutral, between 6.0 and 7.0, but there are some exceptions.

Blueberries and potatoes, for example, prefer acidic soil. A soil test before planting will help determine the amendments you'll need. Learn more about how to test soil.

Mix in Compost
A compost bin in the garden

Compost brings life to the soil by adding nutrients, improving soil structure and helping retain water. When you add rich organic matter like compost, your garden responds with a bountiful harvest of nutrient-rich vegetables and fruit. The best time to make your soil richer is to add compost at the beginning of each growing season.

You can make your own compost from vegetable scraps and yard debris with a composter, or you can purchase bagged compost.

A good rule of thumb is to add an inch of compost to your garden beds each year. But don’t worry, you can never add too much compost to your garden.

How much will you need? The following sizes cover the square footage an inch deep:

  • 1 cubic foot bag – Covers 12 sq. ft.
  • 1.5 cubic foot bag – Covers 18 sq. ft.
  • 2 cubic foot bag – Covers 26.5 sq. ft.
  • 3 cubic foot bag – Covers 36.5 sq. ft.

Add Amendments
Raking compost in the garden

Based on the results of your soil test, either increase the pH of very acidic soil using lime or use sulfur to lower pH. Mix or scratch amendments like finished compost directly into the dirt around the plants’ root zones. Learn more about amending problem soils.

Tips for amending soil with compost:

  • If it’s a new bed or your soil is compact and hard, work the compost into the soil with a rake or cultivator before planting.

  • Side dress fruit trees and shrubs by gently shaking a shovelful of compost around the “drip” area of a plant, or where rain or moisture naturally drip from the plant’s leaves. There is no need to work the side dressing into the soil.
Fertilize Regularly
Gardener fertilizing plants

Use an organic fertilizer specific to the plants in your garden to boost nutrition and increase the harvest. Fertilizers come in many varieties, from liquid to granular, so choose one best suited to your needs.

If you're growing vegetables, look for organic and slow-release fertilizers. Follow package instructions to know when and how often to feed.

Add Mulch
Flower bed with mulch

A 2 to 3-inch layer of mulch does a world of wonders for plants and soil. It helps moderate soil temperature, prevents soil compaction and stops weeds. Add organic mulch around edible plants to keep moisture in, block weeds and provide added nutrients.

Remember to never volcano your mulch around the base of your plants. Not sure how much mulch you’ll need? Estimate it with our mulch and soil calculator.

Control Weeds
Gardener pulling weeds

Weeds not only look unsightly, but they also rob nearby plants of water and nutrients. Pull them by their roots or smother them using mulch. Learn more ways to whack your weeds.

Taking time to properly prepare the soil in your garden will pay off with healthy plants that will produce more blooms and fruit, and withstand pests and diseases.