Transforming Crummy Dirt Into Good Planting Soil-How To Do It

Every gardener knows that the key to a green and healthy garden is a good soil–one that allows plant growth and development. Ideally, a good gardening soil should be fertile, deep, loose, well-drained, near neutral and has a lot of decayed organic matter. Unfortunately, for many homeowners and gardeners, such type of soil is not always available.

If you happen to be one of those who have to make do with a bad garden soil, don’t lose hope. There are things you can do to transform that expanse of crummy dirt in your backyard into an excellent planting soil. Below are some tips how you can do just that and be able to satisfy your green thumb.

Improve it with organic matter

A lot of folks have to deal either with tough clay soil or sandy soil in their backyard. And the problem with these two is that they don’t make for great soil for plants. Clay, for one, is tough on plant roots. When it is dry, it becomes as hard as concrete. When it is wet, it is too sticky and drains poorly that it suffocate plant roots and causes run offs. Sandy soils, on the other hand, are easier to work with than clay but they have low water-holding abilities. As a result, plants tend to suffer moisture stress during hot weather and nutrients are easily lost as water quickly moves down through the soil.

Luckily, these opposite drawbacks can be corrected using one simple technique: adding organic matter, which is made of decaying remains of animals and plants. When used on fine clay soil, it does a good job of binding the particles of clay together, thereby improving drainage, aeration and level of fertility. On sandy soil, organic matter enhances the soil’s nutrient and water holding qualities, creating an ideal environment for beneficial soil earthworms and microbes.

For the best soil, diversify your sources of organic matter. That is, carefully add livestock manure for increased soil nitrogen, and try composting (recycling organic matter) and apply it on the soil for slow-release of nutrients to improve water retention and prevent the development of diseases. Growing cover crops, such as beans, peas, clovers and alfalfa, can help build up soil fertility and improve soil structure. Covering the soil with organic mulch is also necessary to improve soil condition and protect it against extreme temperatures. Organic mulches can also keep weeds at bay.

Keep traffic off the soil by making permanent beds and paths

The pressure coming from foot traffic can cause soil to pack tightly by squeezing its pores closed. When this happens, little air goes into the soil, which, in turn, restricts root growth to surface levels. Water also tends to slowly penetrate through the soil, making irrigation difficult.

One of the best ways to correct this problem, eliminate the possibility of your garden soil from compacting, and protect soil structure is to create wide permanent beds and build pathways in your garden to restrict foot traffic on the soil.

Till with care

If you are trying to change a lawn into a garden, tillage is necessary to kill sods and establish a good soil for seeds. However, excessive tillage can disrupt soil life by inverting and mixing different soil layers, which, in turn, ruin good soil structure. To avoid that from happening, try low-tech tillage. If you have chickens, you can use them to do the tilling for you. Their continuous scratching causes minimal disruption while they loosen the soil at a depth, but the damage they cause is easily repaired because their droppings can boost the life of soil.

You can also use a broad fork to loosen the soil without unnecessarily mixing natural soil layer. It is also easier to use, though not the best tool for addressing tough grass sod that has grown over compacted soil. If you don’t have chickens and you don’t want the elbow grease that the use of a broad fork entails, a no-till way to establish good soil for a new garden is to lay a sheet compost on the ground, whose weight can kill existing sod.

Of course, do not expect overnight results when you do any of the aforesaid advice. With constant care and best practices, you can have rich, soft soil that will allow you to grow plants.

Ericka, who wrote the article above, loves learning and sharing information about gardening. She is also fond of writing articles about home improvement and also regularly contributes content for

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