How to Prepare Your Soil for a Garden - Backyard Boss
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How to Prepare Your Soil for a Garden

A garden is a home, a brand new hobby, a natural resource for produce, and a beautiful yard aesthetic all at once. But planting a garden isn’t as easy as simply tossing out some seeds and hoping for the best.

Before you can begin, you have to ensure the soil in your chosen garden space is suitable for sustaining plant life and promoting growth. This can be quite an overwhelming endeavor! Never fear, this step-by-step guide will show you how to prepare soil for your garden like a pro.

What To Consider Before You Start

Hands of expert farmer pouring soil to checking a quality after add compost and organic manure. Gardening and Agriculture concept.
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The first thing is to determine which part of your yard will be used for your garden. You’ll want to choose a spot that gets ample sunlight and drainage but isn’t close to any trees or power lines. You can contact your area’s power company to ensure that you’re not digging too close to any important lines or cables.

The ideal spot should receive between six and eight hours of direct sunlight and show no signs of pooling after a hardy rain.

Materials and Tools Needed

gardening tools on cement wall - tool concept.
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To prep your soil for your soon-to-be garden, you’ll need to following items:

  • Fertilizer (depending on soil needs)
  • Gardening gloves
  • Ground limestone (depending on soil needs)
  • Gypsum (optional and depending on soil needs)
  • Sulfur (depending on soil needs)
  • Wooden stakes and string
  • Mulch
  • Organic matter of your choice
  • Rake
  • Shovel
  • Soil testing kit
  • Hoe (optional)
  • Spade (optional)

How to Prepare Your Soil for a Garden

Step 1: Breaking the Ground / Removing Sod

Two wooden stakes with metal thread fastened to each one. The metal thread is to mark private property and stop intruders from trespassing. There's a large field and dense woods in the distance.
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If the area where you plan to garden is currently being used as lawn space, you’ll need to do the following. Otherwise, you can move on to step two.

1. Using wooden stakes and string, stake off the area where you want your garden to be.

2. Water the grass and sod within that area making it easier to dig up and remove. Allow the moisture to sit for a few days.

3. Once you’re ready to proceed, use a shovel or spade to cut 1-foot-wide strips into the sod. These strips should be about three feet long and should only go deep enough to remove the top layer of earth.

4. Next, use a spade to pry up your strips of sod. You’ll feel resistance from the grass’s roots, but you should be able to lift up the sod with little strength. If necessary, use a spade to cut the sod loose underneath.

5. Finally, roll your sod strips up like a carpet to remove them from your plot. Note, sod can be quite heavy, so you might need someone to help you with this process.

A man rolling out sod, doing backyard landscaping.
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Step 2: Testing Your Current Soil

1. In your staked-off area, use a shovel to dig between eight and 12 inches into the ground.

2. Now, loosen the soil in your plot. Use a shovel to turn the soil over so that the topsoil is moved to the bottom. Break up any large chunks as you go so that all soil is a similar consistency.

3. As you go, remove any debris, stones, rocks, and foreign matter from the soil. Take note of any insects or worms in the soil as this indicates good nutrient content.

area designated for garden
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4. Next, put on gardening gloves and pick up a clump of loosened soil. The soil should feel fluffy and airy and should form a loose ball when you clump it. Soil that becomes a hard ball has too much clay and soil that falls apart too easily has too much sand.

5. It’s time to test the nutrient content and the pH of your soil. You can use a home soil testing kit for this purpose. Follow the instructions on the kit you’re using and read the results according to the kit’s guide. You can also choose to send samples of your soil to a garden center that can professionally provide an accurate soil assessment.

6. When testing either with your hand or with a kit, it’s important to take a generous amount of soil from multiple parts of your chosen plot. Different locations can have different soil compositions, even within a few feet of each other.

Step 3: Amending Soil Composition

Farmers sprinkle gypsum to correct the acidity of the soil.
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1. When you’re ready to amend your soil, begin by loosening the soil with a shovel once more to ensure even consistency. As done previously, turn the soil over so the topsoil is on the bottom and remove any debris you find.

2. If your soil is too clay or sand-like, you can amend the problem by adding a layer of organic matter of your choice. This helps sand-like soil retain moisture and helps loosen clay-like soil. No more than four inches of this matter should be added.

3. If your soil is too clay-like, you can also opt to add gypsum to it in addition to organic matter. Use three or four pounds of gypsum for every 100 square feet of clay soil you need to loosen.

4. Mix your soil with the organic matter (and gypsum, if applicable) thoroughly.

5. Next, consider the pH of your soil. Generally speaking, a soil pH level of between six and seven is preferable, but this may differ depending on the exact plants you plan to grow.

Chemical fertilizers isolated on white background.
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6. To raise pH levels, use two to three pounds of ground limestone for every 100 square feet of soil. Use 2 pounds of sulfur for every 100 square feet of soil to lower pH levels. Whichever you need to use, mix it deeply into the soil.

7. If soil tests showed that your soil lacks nutrients, you can now fertilize it. Pick fertilizers rich in the nutrients that your soil lacks, such as phosphorus, nitrogen, or potassium. Use one pound of well-balanced fertilizer per 100 square feet of soil and mix well by turning it into the soil.

8. Finally, leave your amended soil to sit for at least three weeks. This will give the soil time to absorb the nutrients you have added to it.

Step 4: Tilling the Soil Into Rows

Senior man raking the soil with a rake in the vegetables garden. Spring garden preparation for seeding.
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1. Once your amended soil has sat for a decent amount of time, return to your plot to till the soil. Use a rake to rake the soil flat and smooth. Do your best not to walk on your garden plot directly, so stick to the sides and rake from there.

2. Plan your rows of plants. The distance between each row will vary based on the plants you want to grow, so do research beforehand.

4. Next, use a rake, hoe, or shovel to move soil into your planned rows. Each row should be between eight and 10 inches in height.

5. Flatten the tops of each row so that they are between six and eight inches in width. Do not step on the rows, as that will compact the soil and make rooting difficult.

6. By the end of your row creation, there should be valleys of flat soil between each raised row. Fill these valleys with mulch to prevent weeds from taking root.

Freshly Prepared Vegetable Beds on an Allotment in Rural Devon, England, UK
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Your soil is now ready to be used for planting! Remember to research the plants you want to grow first to ensure that your prepared soil meets the plants’ needs.

Always Be Prepared

Preparing garden soil for the first time is a laborious endeavor but, it’s worth the hassle! Properly prepared soil helps your plants root easily, absorb moisture, and hold nutrients without getting waterlogged. If you stick by these tips your garden will be sure to thank you.

If you have any questions or would like to share your experiences with preparing garden soil, drop a comment down below.