Poor soil quality is a major cause of plant disease and poor performance. Soil that is lacking in nutrients will not feed a plant properly. Symptoms of poor soil quality are dryness, cracking, plant wilting and discoloring of leaves, says Oregon State University. A good organic soil requires plenty of stabilized organic material, which acts like a sponge, and active organic matter, which provides nutrients as it decomposes. Adding compost to the soil greatly improves soil aeration and reduces nutrient deficiencies.
Inspect your soil for puddles of standing water, discoloration, gritty soil and lack of an earthy smell, says Oregon State University. This soil requires organic matter.
Spread 1 to 3 inches of compost or organic matter on top of the soil. Manure, wood byproducts and peat moss are all acceptable amendments.
Till the organic matter into the top 6 inches of soil, recommends the University of Missouri Extension. Soil may require several years of organic matter application to improve its quality.
Spread a 1- to 2-inch layer of mulch on top of the tilled soil to retain moisture and prevent top soil from washing away, says Oregon State University.
Grow a cover crop such as cereal rye, annual rye or hairy vetch in the fall, according to the variety, to cover the soil during the winter and add organic matter to the soil, says the University of Missouri. As the crops decay, they release nitrogen into the soil, improving its nutrient content.