Garden Soil Preparation Guide


Garden Soil Preparation Guide

Guide to Prepare Garden Soil

Good garden soil should be well-drained and abundantly supplied with organic matter. A deep, mellow loam is preferred. For early crops and for root crops a sandy loam is best, but a silt loam is better able to retain moisture, so for crops that may encounter dry weather conditions, the heavier loam is preferred.

Southern or southeastern exposure is preferable for most vegetable crops. Such exposure is especially valuable for early crops like asparagus, spinach, or lettuce. Good air drainage is an asset to any garden. Air drainage aids in warding off light frosts. The soil of a vegetable garden should be about neutral in its reaction.

TESTING SOIL FOR ACIDITY is a service that is performed by the Ohio State University without cost to the gardener.

Garden soils should be tested for acidity about once every three years. If manure is applied in large amounts each year the soil is usually neutral in reaction. Finely ground limestone or hydrated lime can be applied to correct an acidic soil condition.

Since there is danger in applying too much lime it is best to follow the recommendations furnished by Ohio State University for each sample of soil tested. Vegetables grow very slowly on even the best garden soils if such soils are shaded by trees, high shrubs, fences, or buildings.

The best yield and the highest quality of vegetables are produced when the garden is free from the competition of trees and shrubs, and from the shade produced by buildings, fences, or other objects.


Rotations and Cover Crops.-The rotation of garden sites are advisable wherever it is possible. Sweet clover or some other legume crop could then be grown in the rotation. Such a practice would help to build up and maintain a high state of fertility and organic matter content in the garden soil. Cover crops of rye planted in the garden even as late as November 1 will make some growth during the late fall and will grow rapidly the following spring.

Rye cover crops to aid in retaining soil fertility; they catch and hold soil moisture and they add organic matter to the garden soil. Use of Manures and Fertilizers.-Manure has always been used in building up garden soils. Annual fall applications of 25 tons of horse or cattle manure per acre a: ve practical.

The best way to use poultry manure is as a top dressing for leafy vegetable crops such as cabbage, lettuce, or spinach. Fresh poultry manure contains 20 pounds of nitrogen per ton. One or two tons of poultry manure per acre can be used for each top dressing of leafy vegetable crops. Heavy soils are greatly improved physically by the addition of large amounts of manure.

Sandy soils also greatly benefited. Manures plus 20 percent superphosphate at the rate of 75 pounds for each to manure used will meet the fertilizer needs of most vegetables. Poultry manure (1 to 2 tons per acre) or commercial nitrogen carriers (200 to 300 pounds per acre) can be used to supply extra amounts of nitrogen to leafy vegetables. Complete instructions for fertilizing vegetables are given in a circular issued by the Ohio State University.

Commercial fertilizers should be mixed thoroughly with the soil to prevent their coming in direct contact with vegetable seeds because when this happens the seeds will usually be killed. Commercial fertilizers are most efficient when they are worked well down into the soil.

The phosphorus and potash contained in a complete commercial fertilizer combine with other chemicals in the soil and remain fixed until released and taken up by plant roots. Available forms of nitrogen can move up or down with the water in the soil

Preparing Your Garden Soil

Soil is made up of many elements; it is important to understand that healthy soil is the garden’s cornerstone. Just like a building requires a good foundation, so does a garden and healthy, rich soil is a must-have for this to happen.

For a garden to reach its maximum potential, you must establish healthy soil. Of all the suggestions that I would give to a new gardener, it would be to learn about soil improvement science.

The definition of good soil is a deep dark appearance with a rich earthy smell full of organic matter. The soil should be loose and friable, with the ability to hold moisture without becoming waterlogged or saturated. The soil itself should appear to be alive.

Good soil is alive; it is a bustling and thriving ecosystem with millions of microorganisms, invertebrates, and vertebrates crawling around in it. You could even describe it as a recycling plant, for it reprocesses dead plants and animals into a beneficial substance that helps renew the earth.

Building The Soil

Good soil is typically not found in most backyards because it was stripped away by the builder when he constructed it. All is not lost, though, for it is easy enough to build the garden soil with the right improvement techniques. The best way to build soil is through the addition of organic matter in the form of compost.

Do not just add peat moss or coconut core; you need to use compost; whether the soil is clay or sand, the compost is the answer. Compost decomposes plant waste such as leaves, twigs, grass clippings, and all other plant material types digested by microorganisms and turned into a nutrient-rich material. The addition of compost worked into the soil will transform the garden soil into the perfect environment to raise your plants.

The soil will be loose and airy and allow the roots to penetrate deep, which will, in turn, produce a healthy plant capable of maintaining proper growth and maximum production. The beneficial organisms will help break down the nutrients and provide food for the plants. Healthy soil will also help the plant by making it stronger to ward off attacks by pests and diseases.

While this process will not happen overnight, over the course of several seasons, the soil should be transformed. The biggest part of the equation is the ability to add well-decomposed compost. If you have a yard, though, this should be no problem as you will generate enough material to make a ready supply of compost.

Composting Basics

To produce good compost quickly, the proper carbon-to-nitrogen ratio is essential. This is just a recipe to provide the right amount of the right kinds of materials to your compost pile. All organic matter is made with carbon and includes nitrogen to a lesser degree. The ratio of these two elements is called the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio. Scientists have discovered that the proper balance to start and maintain this matter’s composting is 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.

A good way to determine carbons from nitrogen is the color designation Browns are carbons such as

  • Ashes
  • Cardboard
  • Corn Stalks
  • Fruit waste
  • Leaves
  • Newspaper
  • Peanut shells
  • Pine needles
  • Sawdust
  • Straw
  • Wood chips

While Green materials would be considered high nitrogen and would consist of things like

  • Alfalfa
  • Clover
  • Coffee grounds
  • Food waste
  • Garden waste
  • Grass clippings
  • Hay
  • Manures
  • Seaweed
  • Vegetable scraps
  • Weeds

Building And Maintaining The Pile

Select a dry, shady spot near a water source for your compost pile or bin. Be sure to chop or shred larger pieces before adding them to your pile. Cover the composting area with a 6-inch layer of brown materials, then add a 3-inch layer of green materials and a little soil or finished compost. Lightly mix the two layers so that they are blended well. Finally, add a 3-inch layer of brown materials, then add water until moist.

Every week or two, turn your compost pile with a pitchfork to distribute air and moisture, and be sure to move the dry materials from the edges into the middle of the pile. Continue this until the pile does not re-heat much after turning.

The compost should be ready in one to four months, but let the pile sit for about two weeks after the final turning before use. You may find some of the sticks and other brown material have not completely broken down; sift them out and add them to your next pile.

Adding The Compost To The Soil

As your compost is ready, it can be added to your garden soil as a mulch around the plants. After the season, each fall is overspread a 4-inch layer of compost was over the soil and work it in. In the spring, add another 4-inch layer of compost and work it in about two to three weeks before planting. The soil will quickly respond and reward you with a healthy and vigorous garden.

Creating Edible Landscape Eith Good Soil Preparation

The first step in creating an edible landscape is good soil preparation.

Soil is composed of sand, silt, and clay mineral particles in varying proportions. It’s the soil’s tilth — its texture — that determines how well plants grow and the ease with which plants can take up water and nutrients.

There are 12 basic soil types, and the most common soil types are loamy sand, loam, clay loam, and clay.

How Can you Determine Soil Texture?

You can determine soil texture by using the feel method. Take a handful of moist soil from the area that you will be planting. Squeeze it so that it forms a clump or ribbon. No ribbon can be formed with loamy sand without breaking.

A short ribbon can be formed; it will split easily and break away when about half an inch long and can be easily handled. Clay loam will form a strong ribbon when moist, break when it’s about ¾-inch long, and bear moderate handling. Clay forms a strong ribbon and often breaks only after more than 1 inch and can bear considerable handling.

Once one determines a soil’s tilth, one can amend the soil for optimum planting results.

For instance, in the case of compacted clay, you should concentrate on adding organic matter. After tilling the area, 10 cubic yards of compost may be added.

Once the compost is worked into the garden soil, you must plant cover crops. You could start with hairy vetch in the fall, which was allowed to over-winter.

Field peas could be in spring, then tilled into the soil during the summer. Cowpeas may be sown in the summer and tilled into the soil in the fall. In this way, you can easily add natural nitrogen and organic matter into the clay soil, increasing its tilth.

Soil and Composition 

The first step of gardening is soil preparation. Soil should contain its moisture and nutrients while being balanced in its air and water ratio. The three soil types are clay, loam, and sand, subdivided into different forms, such as sandy loam, sandy clay loam, and clayey loam. These soil types can, in turn, be acidic or alkaline.

Whatever your soil type, organic matter additions, often and generously, will improve it vastly.

To aid you in determining your soil type, roll moist soil into a sausage shape. Clay will bind far better than sand.

Alkalinity and acidity of soil are easiest analyzed with soil testing kits, available from most garden suppliers. The alkalinity or acidity is measured on a 1 – 10 pH scale. Ideally, your soil should be a neutral 7 pH, under pH 5 is too acidic for good plant growth, and above pH 8 is too alkaline. These pH levels influence plant growth and even color, as is seen with Hydrangeas.

For soils too alkaline, apply ammonium sulfate but take care not to burn the plants.

For soils too acidic, apply agricultural lime but determine your desired pH level and the acidity level of your soil. Agricultural lime should be added systematically towards the desired pH level as over-liming is difficult to reverse.

Plants need certain macro-and microelements for ultimate growth performance. Deficiency symptoms, solutions for, and the importance of these elements are listed below:

Nitrogen (N) Yellowing of foliage, usually first noticed on older leaves, and purplish or blue tints is seen. Stunting and early dropping of autumn leaves. Nitrogen betters the plant’s usage of water. Solution: A spring application of 2:3:2 (22) at a rate of 120g p.m. ² on trees, shrubs, veggies, flowers, and lawns. 60g p.m. ² applications of 3:1:5 (26) SR with slow-release nitrogen, every 6 weeks during growing seasons for flowering plants. Alternatively, apply 4:1:1 (21) at a rate of 60g p.m. ² during spring, summer, and autumn.

Phosphorus (P) Yellowing and purplish, blue tints on older foliage. Stunting and poor branching are evident. Phosphorus is essential to all plants for cell division and photosynthesis. Solution: 60g p.m. ² of Superphosphate applied at the root level (Superphosphate does not travel through the soil). Spring application of 2:3:2 (22) at a rate of 120g p.m. ² on trees, shrubs, veggies, flowers, and lawns. 60g p.m. ² applications of 3:1:5 (26) SR with slow-release nitrogen every 6 weeks during the growing season used on flowering plants. Alternatively, apply 4:1:1 (21) at a rate of 60g p.m. ² during spring, summer, and autumn.

Potassium (K) Spots with a pale margin or burnt edging appear on the foliage, usually noticed on older leaves first, and stems may be brittle. Too much potassium may result in toxic magnesium levels.
Potassium is essential to all fruiting- and flowering plants. Potassium helps protect plants against disease, improves its production and transporting of carbohydrates, regulates stem growth- and salts cell sap.

Solution: A spring application of 2:3:2 (22) at a rate of 120g p.m. ² on trees, shrubs, veggies, flowers, and lawns. 60g p.m. ² applications of 3:1:5 (26) SR with slow-release nitrogen every 6 weeks during growing seasons used on flowering plants. Alternatively, apply 4:1:1 (21) at a rate of 60g p.m. ² during spring, summer, and autumn.

Calcium (Ca) Leaves blacken, tip-curling, and eventual death are usually noticed on young leaves first. Growing tips die or are deformed. This deficiency occurs in high rainfall areas with acidic sandy soil. Calcium is vital in plant growth and development, helping with cell division and building cell walls. Organic acids in cell walls are neutralized by calcium.

Solution: Applications of superphosphate, lime, and gypsum.

Magnesium (Mg) Striking coloring on margins and/or yellow or dead patches, usually seen on older leaves first. Deficiency occurs in high rainfall regions with sandy, acidic soil or around large concentrations of potassium. Vegetable gardens and lawns suffer from this deficiency. Magnesium is vital in forming chlorophyll and thus essential for photosynthesis.

Solution: Do not catch and remove grass clippings and enrich beds with compost.

Sulfur (S) Underdeveloped leaves with curling edges and yellowing often appear on the youngest leaves first. It is an important element for good flavor in edible crops and vital for protein production. This deficiency occurs in high rainfall areas with acidic sandy soil.

Solution: Treat your soil to generous applications of organic matter or apply gypsum-containing sulfur.

Iron (Fe) Young leaves are often white, with yellowing appearing between the leaf veins. Iron is essential for photosynthesis and regulates and encourages plant growth; the plant needs to use nitrates. Potassium deficiency plays a role in the severity of iron deficiency.

Solution: Spray plants with a liquid iron sulfate mixture.

Manganese (Mn) Symptoms of pale green veins, blackening water spots, stunting, and yellowing between the leaves’ veins appear at their worst in overcast weather, usually on the youngest and oldest leaves first. Huge concentrations of Manganese can be toxic but reversible by adding lime. Soils of sand or peat often lack manganese and mediums high in alkalinity, iron, copper, and zinc. This trace element is vital for photosynthesis, protein production, and plant growth.

Solution: Spray plants with a mixture of water and manganese sulfate.

Copper (Cu) Plants wilt, and leaves die after turning dark bluish, and twisted. Leaves in the middle of a stem usually show signs first, and stem tips may die. Peat, sand, or soils high in iron, zinc, phosphorus, lime, and manganese may cause copper deficiency. Plants depend on copper as a catalyst when respiring, and it is an important ingredient in enzymes.

Solution: Apply 0,04g p.m. ² of copper sulfate every 6 – 7 years.

Zinc (Zn) White and yellow mottling first occur on the youngest leaves. Poor fruit and grain crop production. Shortened stems with bunched ends and undersized leaves. These deficiencies are often found in areas that receive large concentrations of phosphorus.

Solution: 70g of Superphosphate p.m. ² and an equal amount to planting holes. Apply zinc minerals and zinc sulfate to the garden every 10 years.

Boron (B) Youngest leaves crinkle, blacken, and their margins turn yellow. Leaf stalks, leaves, and flower petals crack, and root- and shoot tips die. This deficiency often occurs in highly alkaline, acidic, or sandy soils, and Brassica crops, like cabbage, depend on it. Boron aids plants in taking up and using calcium and is thus vital for plant growth. It’s dependent on roots-, flower buds- and shoots forming.

Solution: Application of 1,2g borax p.m.²

Molybdenum (Mo) Stems twist and leaves, usually first noticed on older ones, are mottled all over, and margins scorched. Soils wet, sandy, and acidic usually show signs of deficiency. Legumes particularly depend on Molybdenum. This trace element aids the plant’s enzymes to transform nitrogen into a soluble form for the plant.

Solution: Application of 0,035g sodium molybdate p.m. ², or 0,035g ammonium molybdate p.m. ²

Cobalt (Co) Oldest leaves yellow first, and early maturity and stunting are symptoms only found with leguminous plants. Cobalt is vital for certain bacteria, which transforms nitrogen into an available form for plants to take in. Deficiency occurs around large concentrations of manganese.

Solution: Cobalt sulfate application of 0,1g p.m. ²

Chlorine (Cl) is the stunting of shoots and roots. Chlorine is vital for photosynthesis. It helps protect cereals from disease and promotes root- and shoot growth. This deficiency does not occur locally.

Read More: Miracle-Gro Organic Choice Garden Soil Review

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