5 Steps: Optimizing Soil for Planting

30 Oct '18

No matter the weather or the sun exposure, your garden isn't going to do that well if the soil isn't in good shape.

If you want a healthy garden that produces pretty flowers and plump vegetables and fruits, you have to get the soil ready. This can take some time, and it's best to start early. 

1. Test the Soil 

In order to get the soil into great shape, you need to know what you're dealing with. You can find that out by ordering a soil test. We offer these tests, and you can also get them through university cooperative extension offices (the agricultural extensions, not the continuing-ed type of extension), garden centers or private labs. 

These tests tell you what the composition of the soil is like, including the nutrients that are present or absent at the time of testing, as well as the pH of the soil. If you want to know about more detailed analyses, such as chemical pollution, you'll need to ask your cooperative extension about getting the soil checked for those. 

2. Adjust the pH 

Once you know what the soil is like now, take a look at the pH, or the acidity of the soil. The preferred pH varies among plants; for example, blueberries prefer mildly acidic soils, while certain lilac cultivars prefer alkaline soils. If you're planning to plant something that needs a pH that is different than what you have, you need to amend the soil to adjust the pH. 

Common amendments include sulfur to make the soil more acidic, and lime is good for making the soil more alkaline. These take time to work, so apply them as soon as you can, and retest the soil to check the progress of the pH change. 

3. Create Raised Beds 

Another step to take is to create raised beds that let you add planting mixes and topsoil as a way to increase the health of the garden. If your soil test revealed that the soil was very poor, or if the ground is very rocky, a raised bed allows you add nutritious, clean soil in a thick layer, improving the planting bed immediately. 

4. Add Compost and Fertilizer 

How big a role compost and fertilizer play in your garden will vary based on soil health and what you plan to plant. In general, adding compost increases nutrition. Your soil test will also reveal the ratios of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and you can adjust those with fertilizer that is composed in specific proportions. 

5. Find Your Planting Pattern 

Are you going to plant in rows? In square-feet grids? Or in another pattern? Choose your planting plan carefully, but don't be afraid to experiment. Check your cooperative extension's website for suggestions. 


It's easy to get overwhelmed with planting and creating a garden, but the truth is, it's not that hard if you take it slowly and treat it as a long-term experiment. If you need help, we will do your soil analysis and let you know what will work best.

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