Soil forms the basis of healthy plants, and it’s the foundation on which your plants will grow and produce. So, you need to know how to prepare garden soil before planting to have healthy plants and a good harvest.
Some gardeners and even farmers disregard the significance of soil and its impact on their plants’ general health and production. As a grower, know that your plants will also struggle to achieve their potential if your soil is not in good condition.
When your garden soil is in good shape, your plants won’t struggle either, and there is less need for fertilizers and pesticides. The state of your garden, thus, reflects the quality of the soil in it. For you to achieve the best soil, you need a good understanding of its composition and chemistry.
Here is what you should first understand before we discuss how to prepare garden soil:
Know Your Soil Type – How Do I Find Out My Soil Type?
Soil types differ from clay, sandy, silt to loam. You can always tell your soil type by feeling its texture between your fingers. Is your soil dense and heavy or clumps when it’s wet? Is it free and free-flowing? Or somewhere between the two?
- Clay soil has tiny and dense particles. It has a high water retention capacity but poor drainage. The result is that they become hard and compact when dry.
- Sandy soil is quite the opposite of clay in all aspects. It has large particles, drains water fast, hence an insufficient water-retention property.
- Silt has super fine particles that compact, reducing drainage and air circulation.
- Loam soil can be defined as a balance of all the three soil types described above. Loam soil is ideal for planting.
The best way to improve your soil quality is to add organic matter to it. Organic matter plays a crucial role in improving your soil structure. It improves its water retention capacity, infiltration property, and aeration.
As a quick tip, before planting, you can consider building a raised garden bed that has a well-balanced soil mix.
Test Your Soil pH – How Do I Know What pH My Soil Is?
Soil pH is a significant factor when determining soil fertility because it determines the type of nutrients available in the soil. The kind of nutrients you find in alkaline soil is not the same as those in acidic soil.
Most plants can tolerate a wide range of pH levels. But they do best in slightly acidic soils, with a pH range of 6 to 7. The fact is, such levels allow essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium to dissolve better.
The only 100% sure way to know your soil pH is to perform a soil test! When you are sampling your soil for testing, ensure that you take random or strategic samples from different garden sites. You can correct highly acidic soil by adding lime or wood ash to it. If the soil is highly alkaline, consider adding sulfur or aluminum sulfate.
Another great way to deal with acidity or alkalinity is to find plants that thrive well under those conditions.
Know Your Soil History?
Knowing your garden’s history and how the soil has been treated in the past is vital. It provides you a basis on where to start your soil improvement journey. It would be best if you made a note of the plants that have been planted before and the fertilizer or manure used.
Take an interest in those plants that thrive in that garden and those that did poorly. With your soil history, you can determine its full potential and limitations.
So, How To Prepare Garden Soil? – Viable Practices
Next, let’s take a closer look at how you can improve that soil beneath your feet and help your future plants thrive.
1. Correct Your Soil With Organic Matter
Adding organic matter to your soil is the ultimate way to amend it. Organic matter plays different roles according to the soil type. In clay soils, for example, organic matter improves water infiltration and loosens up the ground. In sandy soils, it improves water holding capacity.
How Does Organic Matter Improve Soil Quality?
Organic matter ensures that nutrients needed by the plants are released slowly, and the soil can provide all the essential nutrients to the plant at the right time. The result is, you cut the usage of fertilizers.
What Organic Matter Should You Add To Soil?
Some organic matters include plant materials, compost, sawdust, and green manure.
2. Soil Tillage
Even though the so-called no-till gardening is an excellent growing method, I still decided to add this tip. If you wonder what tilling is, it’s basically turning and “breaking the soil.”
How Deep Should You Till A Garden?
A good rule of thumb is to till your soil deeply to at least 8-10 inches (about 20 to 25 cm) deep. Its advantage is that it helps loosen the ground and, hence, plant roots can grow deeper easily.
What Is The Best Time To Till Your Garden?
The best time to till is when the soil is moist but not wet. If you are working on the ground for the first time, consider tilling during winter to prepare for spring planting. Before tilling, you should add organic matter to ensure that all the material is turned under the soil.
Why Is Tilling Bad For Soil?
Soil tilling also has some disadvantages. It brings dominant seeds (such as weeds) to the surface, exposes them to sunlight, and encourages growth. It also distracts activities of soil microorganisms that are viable for aeration. Despite all these, soil tillage is still vital and makes sense. You only need to control the frequency.
3. Row Preparation
It is advisable to plant vegetables on raised beds. This is because raised beds help improve water drainage, provide furrows for irrigation, improve soil aeration and help plants cope with high rainfall.
If you have a spacious garden, be sure to space your rows up to 36 inches (about 91 cm) apart from each other.
4. Create Favorable Conditions For Microorganisms
Microorganisms play an essential role when you prepare garden soil because they help with decomposition and aeration. You must keep your soil aerated and moist at all times and cut pesticide usage to ensure the wellbeing of the microorganisms.
Also, when using fertilizers, avoid concentrated and highly soluble fertilizers that can kill soil organisms. Instead, consider using organic fertilizers that release the nutrients slowly to the ground.
Mulch insulates the soil from extreme temperatures. It reduces water loss through evaporation and minimizes weed growth.
Organic Mulch Vs. Inorganic Mulch
Mulch can either be organic or inorganic. Organic mulch involves the use of decomposing materials like straw, hay, grass clippings, and barks. Organic mulch is the best way to incorporate organic matter without distracting plant roots.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of Inorganic Mulch?
Inorganic mulch involves pebbles, gravel, plastic, and landscape fabrics. It serves the same role as organic mulch but is best in the essence that it doesn’t need replacement each time, and best of all, it isn’t susceptible to insects and rodents. It, however, doesn’t add any organic matter and hence doesn’t improve soil structure and nutrient content.
When mulch is not applied appropriately, it can change the chemical composition of the soil. So, you must use the correct type of mulching material and apply the right amount of it.
6. Apply Fertilizer
Fertilizer is essential to add nutrients to the soil. Fertilizers can either be organic or inorganic. Organic fertilizers are (in my opinion) the best option, but they are, unfortunately, slower compared to inorganic or synthetic fertilizers because they release the nutrients slowly to the ground.
This means that you cannot depend on organic fertilizers for quick results. As mentioned, they release the nutrients over a long period of time, thus improving soil structure and composition.
Are Synthetic Fertilizers Harmful?
When choosing between these two fertilizer types, keep in mind that inorganic fertilizers are not considered safe for the environment even though they work fast. This is because it is deemed to worsen the soil in the long run since microorganisms cannot survive.
How Do You Clean Soil Before Planting?
Soil is well known for harboring pests, diseases, and weeds. Before planting, ensure that your ground is free of weeds, pests, and diseases through sterilization. Sterilization before planting ensures optimal growth and the health of your plants.
This is a common practice in greenhouses to minimize replenishing their potting soil every planting season and is gaining popularity among farmers since it is cheaper than treating problems or losing the crops entirely.
Sterilization is significant when it comes to seed germination rates, shoot cuttings, and transplanting. Some farmers are, however, concerned about the adverse effects such procedures can cause. For instance, they are worried about the negative impact the process could have on good bacteria and microorganisms in the soil.
You can either sterile potting mixes or sterilize on your own. Here are some of the ways to clean soil:
1. Chemical Treatment
This is a practice viable for large-scale and commercial operators. It is easy to use, and the application process is fast. It, however, poses some health and safety risks as well as disadvantages:
- The person making the application can suffer health risks.
- Long-term use can lead to resistance to pests and diseases.
- After application, the soil can be subjected to a quarantine period before reusing.
- Has a narrow range of effects; a single chemical is used as a remedy for specific pests and diseases.
2. Heat Treatments
It is a standard method used by small garden growers, mainly due to the side effects of chemical treatments. The process works by raising the soil temperatures where harmful organisms, weed seeds, and fungal spores cannot survive.
The disadvantage of this method is that it significantly reduces the number of beneficial bacteria and microorganisms.
How Do You Prepare The Soil For A Vegetable Garden?
For a productive vegetable garden, you need to prepare your soil adequately before planting. Most of the soil preparation processes have been discussed fully above. For a vegetable garden, the process is:
1. Choosing The Right Spot
It would help if you had a spot that gets at least 6 hours of full sunshine daily for a vegetable garden. Also, consider selecting a level spot with well-draining soil.
2. Get Rid Of The Competition
Eliminate the weeds with herbicides, pull them by hand, dig, rake them up or chop them. Consider smothering the grass and weeds with black plastic or leave them to dry up if time allows.
3. Conduct A Soil Test
Soil tests help you determine which minerals and amendments your soil needs to be productive.
4. Add Amendments
Correct your soil as per the results of the soil tests. Use lime or sulfur to adjust the pH, add organic matter to improve fertility and soil structure.
5. Soil Turning
It would be best to work the amendments into the soil using a rototiller or garden fork. While at it, break up large compacts, remove rocks and roots. The best time to work on your ground is when it’s moist but not wet.
How Do You Enrich Poor Soil?
You can always revive or enrich your garden soil for better production rates and the health of your plants. Here are some of the effective ways to improve the quality of your garden soil:
1. Incorporate Organic Diet
Organic matter in soil is vital to plants as it recycles nutrients, retains water, improves soil structure, and eradicates pests and diseases. The best way to improve your soil is by feeding it with an organic diet.
2. Till With Worms
Let the worms do the work for you. You can incorporate worms in the soil through the use of sheet mulching. Mulching takes time to be effective. For a new garden, consider mulching a year before planting. Then, for an existing garden, a few months is enough. Sheet mulching is ideal for building new garden soil, maximizing nutrients, eradicating weeds, and keeping the soil structure.
3. Soil Testing
When starting a new garden or when your productivity declines, consider soil testing. The test will determine the insufficient or lacking nutrients in your garden soil. From here, you can take corrective measures. Provide your soil samples to a certified lab to get results so you know to take the right actions.
4. Supply Nutrients
As we know, all nutrients, both macronutrients, and micronutrients are critical to plant growth. So, before planting anything, ensure that there are enough nutrients in your soil. If there aren’t, consider using organic fertilizers or, preferably, compost.
What Should I Add To My Garden Soil In Spring?
- Add Organic Matter
It is decomposed plant or animal matter. I think that we have emphasized the importance of organic matter enough in this article.
- Lay Organic Mulch
If you plant plants in your garden, consider laying organic much between them. Mulching is an ideal way to improve soil fertility and structure. You also get to protect the roots of your plants and contain moisture in the soil.
- Plant A Comfrey Patch
Comfrey draws up minerals from deep in the ground with its long roots. Its leaves also have nutrients that you can feed to your plants and soil. You can use them as mulch or dig the leaves into the ground. You can also use comfrey to make liquid fertilizer that you can feed to your fruity crops.
Should You Wet The Soil Before Planting?
Moisture is an essential element in the soil to help plant growth. Wetting is a crucial step to ensure that your planting process goes well. It, therefore, means you should wet your soil before planting.
Without enough moisture, seeds will not germinate. In the case of transplanting, plants will not root well or might dry up shortly after grounding. Before planting, ensure that your soil is sufficiently moist and ready.
What Tools, Materials, And Implements Are Used To Prepare Garden Soil?
Soil preparation tools differ depending on your processes. Large-scale farmers will need tractors, plows, and irrigation tools. For a vegetable garden, tools can be classified as such:
- Digging tools like shovels, spades, and forks.
- Planting like trowels, dibbers, and bulb planters.
- Watering tools as hose pipes, sprinklers, and watering cans.
- Cutting tools like loppers, shears, secateurs, hatches, and pruning saws.
Some other essential materials include a soil testing kit, soil amendment materials like organic matter and fertilizer, and herbicides, which are, of course, optional.
So, now you know how to prepare your garden soil. Soil preparation is an essential element in gardening. Grow on a solid foundation that starts with proper soil preparation, and you are sure to produce healthy, nutritious vegetables in your garden.
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