Garden Soil Preparation – How To Make Good Soil

improve garden soil

Recently I have been getting a lot of new gardeners asking about the basics. I can’t stress enough how important it is to make/use good soil!!

Not only do you know that your plants are getting enough nutrition, water, etc, it makes weeding easier and all the gardening years to come much less expensive and labor intensive. It may be a little more expensive and labor intensive now, but you’ll never have to do it again… Trust me, it’s worth it.

I highly recommend using a mixture of 1/3 Vermiculite (I tried Perlite this year to save cost… it was NOT worth it… post on that to come), 1/3 bio-compost, and 1/3 peat moss BY VOLUME, not by weight. This creates a light fluffy soil that holds moisture well without turning into a swamp if you over water. In future years, all you need to do is add compost for nutrition- the peat moss and vermiculite are not “used up” by your plants!

If you choose to do a different “planters” mix or something, it will probably be fine. However, don’t be confused (or cheap) and try to use topsoil– it is super heavy, easily turns into goop with too much water and just doesn’t work.

Keep in mind that the heavier your soil is the harder your plants have to work to get their little roots through and established. The harder they work under the soil, the less energy they have to produce the fruits, veggies, etc that you want above ground.

Now you may be worrying that you have to mix a lot of soil and darn that gets expensive… you’re right.

HOWEVER!! keep in mind that most of your garden plants, flowers, etc only need 6″ of soil to grow well… potatoes and corn may need a little more. Even if you have raised beds or containers that are much deeper, don’t waste soil filling them up.

I just leave my deeper containers with less soil and they look a little empty until the plant gets big enough that you don’t even notice.

improve garden soil

If you absolutely have to have that “full” look for some reason just fill the bottom portion of the container or bed up with pea gravel or small rocks (anything that will drain well) put a layer of weed mat down across the top (to keep your soil from slowly draining away) and put the good stuff down in the top 6″ of the container.

Because you’ve put all this hard work into making such great soil, make your beds big enough that you’ll never have to walk on the soil to reach all your plants (the average person can reach approx 2′)… I make my beds no wider than 4′ if I can get to both sides and 2′ wide if they’re up against a fence. I know this doesn’t look like much, but again, trust me!!

Walking on your soil compacts it, making it harder for your plants to grow and harder to weed. Plus the more compacted your soil is, the more you need to get that 6″ deep bed.

I know this doesn’t look like much, but again, trust me!! Walking on your soil compacts it, making it harder for your plants to grow and harder to weed. Plus the more compacted your soil is, the more you need to get that 6″ deep bed.

If you’re purchasing ingredients for your soil, here’s how you figure out how much to get:

  • Take the square footage of the beds or containers your planning to fill (i.e. I have a 4×4 bed, so 16 sq ft) and divide this number in half. This is the CUBIC feet you will need to fill your beds 6″ deep. In our example it would be 8 cubic feet. I would then buy approx 3 cubic feet of each ingredient (compost, vermiculite, peat moss) and would have a little left over)

  • If you’re purchasing in bulk from a landscaping center (which is frequently much less expensive than buying lots of bags from the store) there are 27 cubic feet in 1 yard of soil.

Happy Planting!!

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