Some gardeners are lucky enough to have fantastic soil that works for them, but most of the time, we’re stuck dealing with some sort of issue.
From too much clay to too many stones — it’s not often we end up with perfect soil right off the bat.
But in the long run, the success of your vegetable garden is entirely dependent on its growing space. This is where farming often becomes more difficult than we imagined at the beginning.
So how does one go about improving garden soil quality? First and foremost, you must understand dirt and what it is made of.
The soil is composed of water, air, and weathered rock/organic matter. But the magic lies in the organisms — microbes, insects, earthworms, and other elements — enabling it to flourish most healthily.
Most people begin by digging up some dirt, adding a little mulch or compost, and putting in plants.
Below are a few tips for those seeking how to improve soil quality naturally.
1. Feed Your Soil an Organic Diet
The best way to improve soil quality is to go organic.
The earth has a few basic requirements: water, shelter, air, and food. As mentioned above, living organisms are key to improving the quality and health of it.
Put nutrients back into the soil by adding debris, kitchen scraps, fallen leaves, manure, or compost.
Simply add the material into the top few inches of the ground with a hoe, then cover it with mulch.
Do this in the fall for the best possible results.
2. Use a Test Kit
When you’re starting your garden, buy a soil test kit and make sure to use it early on.
This will tell you if an important nutrient is missing, which can help you take action before your garden suffers due to unhealthy soil properties.
Keep in mind, test kits should be used in the late summer or early fall for best results.
Once you’ve taken the test, you can submit it to a local certified lab to help you find the right fertilizers.
3. Pay Attention to Nitrogen
Nitrogen is one of the most essential plant nutrients for living plants as it feeds the organisms that are living in your vegetable and flower beds.
Make sure you’re adding various sources of nitrogen each year — from fish emulsion to seed to feather meal to green grass clippings and everything in between.
It’s vital to ensure adequate nitrogen is added during the fall or spring before any new planting takes place.
4. Recycle Plant Scraps
This tactic mimics the natural way plant litter falls into nature.
When it’s late spring or early winter, go outside and collect all of the dropped scraps from your garden, hedges, and other woodlands nearby.
This material makes great mulch, and when it’s still green, it provides an amazing source of nitrogen for your plants.
Simply recycle the scraps back into your garden.
5. Use Ashes From the Fire
Do you have a wood stove or fire pit? If so, make sure you collect the ashes now and then.
Using ashes from the fire is a great way to improve soil fertility. Wood ash helps neutralize acidity while ensuring adequate calcium levels.
If you burn a variety of woods, you’re able to get a range of beneficial elements from the ashes — from potassium to phosphorus to magnesium.
6. Let Wet Soils Dry Before Planting
Before you try to plant anything in the spring, make sure your planting space is sufficiently dry.
How do you know if it’s dry enough to plant? Grab a handful and squeeze.
If water drips out, it’s not ready yet. Wait a week or two before trying again.
Also, take note of whether or not it forms into a ball when you squeeze a handful. This is another sign it’s not ready yet.
7. Stay on Top of Weeds
We’ve all been there before. Sometimes it’s not all about how to make good garden soil. We look forward to spring when our garden starts to come back to life — only to find it’s filled with weeds.
Before you start planting, make sure you get rid of any weeds that will otherwise compete with your plants.
If you can pull them early and efficiently, you can help prevent them from spreading. Just make sure you’re pulling by the root.
8. Avoid Digging Unless Absolutely Necessary
If you don’t need to dig, avoid it. This is a simple rule, but it’s often missed. Why should you avoid digging?
In the simplest terms, digging will disturb any dormant weed seeds lying beneath the soil. This means once you start digging, you’ll notice weeds popping up pretty quickly.
Feel free to use a garden fork to keep your soil aerated, but don’t go any further than that.
9. Cover Your Soil at All Times
Weeds will cover your planting space if you don’t cover it yourself. Take precautionary measures and always keep it covered at all times.
Poor soil can be enriched by using mulch or some type of living, organic material.
You can use grass clippings, bark chips, green manure, and any other resources available to you.
Just keep it covered. This will ensure healthy content that doesn’t need to be watered constantly.
10. Keep an Eye on Moisture Levels
Don’t let your soil get too dry.
As you know, plants need water to survive, but this is especially true if you’re growing any vegetables or fruits.
If you don’t get much rain in the area you’re living, keep an eye on moisture levels.
Make sure you’re feeding it an organic diet as mentioned above. Why? The more organic matter, the greater it is able to hold moisture.
11. Avoid Walking Too Much on the Soil
If you have a large, expansive garden or lawn and you’re looking to improve soil structure underneath, make sure you have adequate walking spaces that don’t disrupt it.
If possible, create paths as needed. If you’re walking on the wet ground, you’ll compact it and reduce its breathing room — lessening the health of your growing avenue significantly.
12. Keep Examining the Structure
Before you choose a place to plant, try to examine the soil.
Take your time to figure out the structure, pH level, and drainage qualities of the area you’ll be using for your garden.
Be aware that mother nature can alter the soil texture in a multitude of ways. Keep an eye on the wind, rain, sun, and other factors that may damage it.
If it does end up damaged, focus on adding more organic matter to help hold onto some of the nutrients in it.
Keep in mind, the soil is rarely perfect. Any improvements you’re looking to make will take time, effort, and hard work.
Types of Soil
Anyone who wants to start a garden must know the different types and their qualities to reap gardening success. Below are the six main types of garden soil.
Lumpy and sticky when wet. Poor drainage. Plants such as bee balm, goldenrod, pear, black-eyed Susan grow, and summer crops well in clay.
Sand drains well and dries out fast. It does not hold nutrients so organic amendments are necessary for plants to thrive.
Strawberries, butterfly weeds, wormwood, carrots, peppers, parsnips, and corn grow well in sandy soil.
Soft and powdery, rich in nutrients, and holds moisture well; however, it can easily become waterlogged.
Most vegetables thrive well in silt, so long as there is proper drainage.
A mixture of clay, silt, and sand. This is the best soil type for vegetable gardening as most crops thrive well in it.
Loam is full of nutrients, retains moisture well, has a great structure, and doesn’t dry out easily in hot climates.
Dark, acidic soil with a spongy and damp feel. Retains water easily.
Roots vegetables, legumes, and Brassicas grow well in peat if mixed with organic matter, lime (to reduce acidity), and compost.
Large grains and stonier than other soil types. Very alkaline, which can lead to yellow leaves and stunted growth.
Cabbage, spinach, corn, and beets do well in chalky soil if the right fertilizer is added to balance ph.
If you follow the tips above on how to improve soil health, you’ll greatly boost its appearance — resulting in a much more attractive garden or lawn that’s rich, strong, and lush.
It’s a time-consuming, delicate process, but once you’ve followed these suggestions, you’ll be rewarded with healthy, vibrant plants or grass.
Just make sure you’re not removing the wonderful organic material that ends up in your garden or lawn in an attempt to clean up the appearance.
Many well-intentioned organic farmers make this common mistake, but it’s best to leave the organic matter as it feeds the earth.