Preparing your soil before planting

Gardeners often disregard the impact soil has on the health and vigour of their plants. Soil preparation isn’t the most thrilling aspect of planting a garden, but it’s certainly one of the most important. If your soil isn’t right, your garden will struggle to reach its full potential and will soon become suited only for growing weeds.

Read the following tips to know how to properly prepare and care for your soil so that it can improve each year and continue to grow plants forever.

Digging deeper: know your soil

So, let’s learn more about YOUR soil and how it affects how plants grow. Do you have clay or sandy soil? Is your soil acidic or alkaline? Is it thin or rich in nutrients? We’ll review three important components:

1. Soil type

2. Soil pH

3. Soil nutrition

1. Soil type

There are three types of rock particles: large (sand), medium (silt), and small (clay). Usually, soil is a mix of these particles. The mix of particles will affect how water drains, how much oxygen plant roots get, how well the soil holds nutrients.

Clay Soil – Very fine particles are slow to absorb moisture or to drain. Clay soil holds its shape when rolled into a ball. It can bake hard in summer and become waterlogged in winter.

Sandy Soil – Large particles that drain quickly. Sand does not hold onto nutrients very well, but warms up quickly in spring.

Silty Soil – Smaller particles than sandy soils. A slightly slippery, floury feel. Holds onto moisture and nutrients for longer.

2. Soil pH
The pH of your soil is one of the most important factors in determining its fertility. If your soil is too alkaline (with a pH above 7.5) or too acidic (with a pH below 5.5), it can make a big difference in which nutrients are available to your plants.

Although most plants will tolerate a wide range of pH levels, they prefer slightly acidic soils (with a pH of 6 to 7) because important nutrients dissolve readily in that environment. In soils that are too acidic or alkaline, your plants may get too much of some nutrients and not enough of others.

How do you test your soil pH? Here are two options:

DIY Soil Test Kit: For the quickest results, you can buy an instant-read soil test kit or electronic tester (available in stores)

Professional Soil Analysis: But if you’re starting a new garden, it’s a good idea to have your soil tested professionally. The soil samples will be sent to a lab, which will analyse your soil pH and nutrient content as well as its capacity to retain nutrients.

3. Soil nutrition

To quickly review, plants’ primary nutrients are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). On the package of a fertiliser, you’ll see these 3 values separated by dashes (N-P-K); the numbers of each nutrient indicate the percentage of net weight contained.

  • Nitrogen (N) promotes strong leaf and stem growth and a dark green colour. Add aged manure to the soil and apply seaweed, fish, or blood meal to increase available nitrogen.
  • Phosphorus (P) promotes root and early plant growth, including setting blossoms and developing fruit, and seed formation. Add (fast-acting) bonemeal or (slow-release) rock phosphate to increase phosphorus.
  • Potassium (K) promotes plant root vigour, disease and stress resistance, and enhances flavour. Add greensand, wood ashes, gypsum, or kelp to increase potassium.

Improving your soil

Once you know the nature of your soil, it’s easy to amend it to meet the needs of the plants you want to grow. But just as the characteristics of garden soil vary, so, too, do the ways to amend and improve soil to achieve the best possible growing conditions.

Adding organic matter

Almost all garden soils can be improved by adding organic matter to make soil more workable. Organic matter loosens tight clay, helps sand hold more water, makes soil easier to dig, and adds nutrients.

Adding organic matter in the form of compost and aged manure, or using mulch or growing cover crops (green manures), is the best way to prepare soil for planting. Adding chemical fertilisers will replenish only certain nutrients and do nothing for maintaining good, friable soil. Organic matter will help supply everything your plants need.

Tilling the soil

The soil should be tilled as deeply as possible, at least 20 cm. Deep tilling loosens soil and lets vegetable roots go deeper. Turn each shovelful of soil completely over. Till soil when it is moist but not wet. Before planting, rake the soil clean and level it. Remove all sticks, rocks and other material.

The soil master

With these tips you will soon be a soil master and have a luscious growing garden, for more info visit one of our branches.