Preparing Soil For Gardening – All Soil is Not Created Equal

So you have decided to create a garden. Woohoo! I hope you have read my previous blogs because they will help you with the fundamentals of gardening. Todays blog is going to touch upon various kinds of soil and preparing soil for gardening. The soil is “food” for plants and we want to make sure they are being fed highly nutritious ingredients along with superior minerals. It is best to know what kind of soil you have in your yard before planting flowers. All soil is not created equal.

Types of Soil – Let’s Get Down and Dirty

There are 3 basic kinds of soil and where you live usually determines which type of soil is found in your yard.

1. Sandy Soil

If you live in a coastal area or a desert, you probably have sandy soil which tends to be acidic and low in nutrients because it drains very easily. It feels rough upon touching and is grainy and the particles are quite large. Some flowers that like sandy soil are bearded iris, salvia, and sedum just to name a few.


2.
 Clay

Have you ever seen cracked soil when it is very hot outside? You can probably count on this being clay. Clay particles are very tiny and stick closely together. As a result, clay is less porous than sand and can almost create a barrier which prevents water from sifting through. Clay has many more nutrients than sand, but because it does not drain well at all, it will be very heavy and cause your plant’s roots to rot from too much water. Clay can usually be found around ponds or streams. It is probably clay if the ground you are walking on is slippery after a rain, and if you can form a ball by just squeezing a handful of dirt. Asters, bee balms and daylilies enjoy a clay diet.

 3. Loam

When walking through the woods, you most likely see bits of leaves, twigs or other organic things decomposing on the floor. This decomposition of organic materials creates loam. This type of soil provides the best soil for most plants because it is chock-full of nutrients and minerals and it drains well. However, plants are fickle so you have to know which type of “food” your plant likes to eat.

Usually your soil is a combination of these materials, so which type of soil do you have??

Prepare the Plot – For a Garden That Is!

If you have read my previous blog, “Gardening Ideas for Beginners – I think I Can!“,  you’ve probably decided on the location of your garden. If you’re lucky, it is just a small plot of land covered with dirt. However, if you’re not that lucky and it’s covered with thick, lush, grass, preparing soil for a garden involves a little more muscle.  Here are some suggestions for preparing soil for gardening:

  • rent a sod cutter at your local garden store to remove the grass
  • lift the grass with a shovel, but first water it well to make it easier to lift. Be sure to dig down 3 to 4 inches to include some of the root system.
  • place layers of corrugated cardboard and/or layers of newspaper over the plot to kill the grass. This will usually take 6 to 8 weeks for it to fully decompose, so it’s best to start either late winter or early spring.
  • hire someone to remove the grass and amend it with nutrients

In order to visualize the garden, use a can of spray paint to outline the area or stake it out with rope. The design depends on your individual preference. I like curves, so every garden I have created is quite curvy!

Loosen the Soil – Allow the Roots to Thrive

After you have successfully removed the grass and/or weeds, you will need to till the soil. Tilling the soil aerates it (creates air pockets) and makes it easier to alter the composition by adding nutrients to your dirt. Make sure you till the soil when it is moist. That will make for an easier job. There are a few gardening tools you could use to till an area of ground. 

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  • Cultivator –  is a mini-tiller used to cultivate soil only. It is not conducive for removing grass or weeds because grass and weeds will get wrapped around the tines. The tine depth is 4 to 10 inches deep with a 6 to 16 inch tilling width. It’s light-weight which makes it easy to use for a small area and the tines propel it forward for easier use. They are either gas or preparing soil for gardeningelectric powered. (Amazon)
  • Garden Tillers – these are more powerful machines and are usually gas powered. Their tines can be located either in the front, middle or rear of the machine. When the tines are in the front, it’s the easiest operation and meant for softer loamy soil; if in the middle the machine actually is the easiest to maneuver and will perform a lot of the operations a rear tine tiller will do, but it’s less common to find; rear tine tillers are more heavy duty and can till new ground with heavy dense clay
  • Pitch Fork – this is the old fashioned way of turning soil and is very functional if you have soft soil

Time to Make a Change – Amend the Soil

Now that you’ve cleared the grass and weeds and tlled the soil to a depth of 12 inches, it’s time to amend the soil. Preparing soil for gardening can be as easy as adding some sand to your soil to make it less heavy and dense. But you will want to seek a pro’s advise regarding how much and what type of material to add to the soil. In the previous blog I discussed soil testing so you can refer to that. Usually you will just have to add some lime to adjust the pH or add some compost bought from your local garden store.

Creepy Crawlers

One other natural way to make your soil rich and fertile is to add worms to your plot of land. You simply purchase them at garden centers or Lowes or Home Depot and put them on your garden on a dry day and the worms will dig down to find moisture in the soil. Once they are comfy they will reproduce and aerate and fertilize your garden for many years.

Change is Good

So as you have learned there are many types of soil. (Willow). This blog touched on the three basic forms of soil. As a novice knowing these three types is essential to effectively preparing soil for gardening. Once you have identified your soil, you can use organic additives to enhance the growth of your plants. Enjoy getting dirty!!

 

I’d love to hear your feedback. Leave a comment!

Happy Gardening!

Nina

bestgardeningforbeginners@gmail.com

https://bestgardeningforbeginners.com

20 thoughts on “Preparing Soil For Gardening – All Soil is Not Created Equal”

  1. Great information Nina ! Thank you for posting. It’s a great layout and you’ve made these steps very simple to follow. I think I’ll begin my adventure for gardening this summer with help from your website.

    1. Hi Art. I’m glad you liked my post and found it understandable and simple to apply. I look forward to guiding you through creating a garden from beginning to end. Please feel free to read my other posts. I try to give people as many tips as possible in order to be successful. Happy gardening!!
      Nina

  2. Great article Nina, easy to read and understand. Very interesting about the 3 types of soil. I believe we have some combination of clay. It’s very difficult to dig into and we have to provide nutrients if we want something to grow.

  3. very informative! I’ll be sure to use this knowledge the next time I plot a garden. I didn’t know worms could be so good for plants

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, worms are very worthwhile to the soil. If you have any more comments or questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!
      Nina

  4. Very interesting and informative. Perhaps this is why many of our plants have died. Thank you for the great tips.

    1. I’m glad you found the post informative. Yes, you do have to have the correct soil for your flowers to flourish. If you have any more questions or need some adivce, please don’t hesitate to ask. Let me know how your plants improve once you ammended your soil!
      Nina

  5. Your article is fascinating; I have learned a lot from your information. I will go back and read your previous articles; I like the way this one is written; it is easy to read and informative. Thank You for sharing this info, Nina.

    Edith Frey

    1. Hi Edith. I’m glad you found my article informative. Yes, please read some of my other posts. I think you’ll also enjoy those. Please leave any comments or questions and I’ll be sure to get back to you!
      Happy gardening,
      Nina

  6. My personal takeaway is the importance of loosening of soil as preparation for our garden. I now understand the soil has to be loosened so that the roots of plants may penetrate deep into the soil. The loosening of soil allow two things.

    1. It allows the roots of our plants to breathe easily.

    2. And also promotes growth of organisms like earthworms and microbes, which are beneficial.

    1. Hi Paolo. You are so right. Plants definitely need room to spread their “wings” so it is best to loosen the soil as much as possible. But beware, do not water the soil before loosening it. That will create a big sticky mess, and watch how much water you add to the planted flower because the clay drains slowly due to its dense composition. Add some organic material to the hole before planting the flower.

      Thanks for the comment and if you have any suggestions, comments, or questions please do not hesitate to ask.

      Happy gardening,

      Nina

  7. This year, after two years, I actively started gardening again (two years ago I got pregnant and then had a small child, and there was no time and energy for the garden). Now, however, my little daughter is already so big that she got her little shovel and rake, and she is very happy to help me.
    We managed to get rid of the grass and weeds on most of the areas (we have a vegetable garden and several flower beds in different locations of the yard). Now, however, is the time to enrich the soil, which is really depleted after two years, and I read your article just in time! Thanks for all the useful information on how to prepare the soil for gardening!
    I wish you happy gardening,
    Nina

    1. I’m so glad you found my article informative! It is so much fun gardening with children. In fact that’s how I began my journey by gardening with my Mom. If you get a chance, read the post on butterflies and hummingbirds.https://bestgardeningforbeginn…  I know your daughter would love seeing these beauties in your garden.

      Let me know if there is anything I can help you with and thanks for the comment.

      Happy gardening to you too!

      Nina

  8. Oh I fully agree with you that not all soil is created equal. We have extremely hard soil, it is like digging into rocks, so it must be clay when I read your descriptions. We have used an industrial rotavator to try and turn the soil, but it is really hard work. So we have planted trees and shrubs, but I find it very difficult to have actual flowerbeds. 

    Do you have any tips for me to get the clay soil easier to work with? Should I just put horse manure or something on top and try and water it in? 

    1. You are so right. Clay is a bear to work with. There are a couple of things you could do. One is create an elevated berm with good top soil or fertile potting soil. Top soil is probably cheaper, though. I did this in our home where the entire one and two third acres was clay. Start small though or else you’ll get totally frustrated. Once the topsoil was dumped in a pile I took a shovel and pitch fork to spread it into the design I wanted. I am into curves so it looked like a small meandering pond. The berm was about a foot high. I then edged it with slate pieces layered alternately to about 6 to 8 inches high. I had a pallet delivered. This sounds like a lot of work but it was well worth it. So this suggestion is if you wish to not deal with the clay at all. Then plant perenniels. 

      The next suggestion is to plant short rooted flowers and then top them off with 3 to 4 inches of mulch. The mulch will help keep the plant cool and it eventually will permeate the clay with nutrients. Although, the clay is nutrient rich in itself. 

      To break into the heavy clay begin by placing a sturdy metal rod in the ground and pound it with a mallet. Move the rod in a circular motion and repeat until the hole is as big as you like.This should break the clay apart. Turn in some organic matter, but not too much. Do not add water beforehand for that will make a big sticky mess. 

      Some flowers that thrive well in clay are as follows:

      aster, astilbe, bearded iris, hostas, bee balm, coneflower and sedum

      I hoped this answered your question and gave you some viable suggestions. Let me know how you make out and if you have any more questions or suggestions.

      Happy gardening.

      Nina

  9. I had no idea that different sorts of soil need different ways to make it more fertile for plants. We are so used to just planting flowers and seeing them grow. But lately, my garden patch has been producing sad wilted flowers, and I think it has something to do with the soil. 

    Thanks for this enlightening article. 

    Regards,

    Aps

    1. Hi Aps. I’m glad you were able to learn something from my article. Yes, a lot depends on the soil and most flowers need good, high nutrient, and well draining soil. Try to ammend the soil with some of the things I suggested. (compost, manure; however be sure to follow the instructions regarding how much to add) Thanks for the comment and let me know how you make out. If you have any more comments or questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

      Happy gardening!

      Nina

  10. Hi Nina

    I love this topic, this article, I was so eager to read it. Getting into reading I discover a lot of interesting facts. for instance I  didn’t know that you have to care about which soil you can gardening as not in every ground/soil you can plant a seed. So true! Because as you already said the soil could be acidic or low in nutrients and make the seed dying. Although I am not so much into gardening as my partner is, I was really fascinated to read about it.

    As I’ve mentioned at the very beginning, I love this topic as I’ve been attracted to how fluent and easier is to read. Fascinated and interesting is what everyone looks for. Thank you!

    My question about this, might be a silly one, but do you think (it could be but I really have no idea) this is applicable just for flowers as I really really love vegetables and fruits in my garden?

    Thank you again, many blessings to you

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I hope you venture into my website for other topics you may be interested in too! Yes, vegetables like particular soils, mainly those with lots of organic matter. That could be compost, well-rotted manure, or even bags of organic matter bought from stores. Be sure to mulch your plants after planting in the ground. Two to three inches of mulch should be sufficient. It helps retain water and add nutrients to the soil. 

      If you plan to add herbs to your flower garden, read my blog on herbs https://bestgardeningforbeginn…  It will give you some suggestions and precautions because some herbs and flowers should not be planted close together.

      Thanks for commenting! I hope I answered your question. If you have any more comments or questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

      Happy gardening,

      Nina

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