Healthy, nutrient-rich soil is the most important aspect of growing plants indoors and outdoors. Soil requires proper care and fertilization to stay fertile. Plants that look wilted and discolored may be in soil that does not promote proper growth. Nutrients in the garden soil also play a large part in whether a plant will grow.
A soil test is recommended by the University of Missouri before fertilizing or otherwise altering garden soil. A soil test tells you whether the soil requires the three primary nutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). You should take a soil sample from several areas in the garden, selecting areas that look like they have different physical qualities by digging down with a shovel and removing 7 inches of soil. Mix the samples together in a plastic container and send it to a university extension service for testing. Fertilization recommendations are given with the test results.
The University of Georgia Extension recommends adding organic matter to your garden soil to improve its qualities. Organic matter includes peat moss, wood chips, dead plant material, compost and animal manure. Most of these materials add a small amount of nutrients to the soil as well as providing new structure. Organic material improves water retention and drainage. Once a year, 4 to 6 inches of weed-free organic material should be tilled into the soil.
A maintenance fertilizer replaces the nutrients removed from the soil in the previous growing season as well as during the winter months. Fertilization is an important part of plant care, and the application of a maintenance fertilizer prepares the seedbed for new plants. Maintenance fertilizer should be applied in the spring before planting and worked into the top 3 to 5 inches of soil. Apply the nutrients by weight according to the requirements set in the soil test, spreading the weight specified to every 1,000 square feet.
Plants will grow only in certain light strengths. Place the garden in an area that provides enough light for the plants you plan to grow. For plants that require full sunlight, make the garden in a south- or southwest-facing direction. The garden should be protected from heavy winds and harsh weather.
Plants require regular watering to keep them healthy. Some plants require more water than others. Certain plant varieties do best if the soil dries out between waterings to prevent root rot, while other plants will die quickly if the water dries up. Water plants thoroughly to a depth that penetrates all the roots. Infrequent, deep watering improves root growth and hardens the plant against disease and drought.