A seedling in loamy soil.
image by keeper182/sxc.hu
Soil preparation is essential when planning a garden and even more so when planning to plant seeds. During the first few weeks of life of a seedling, it is essential that it has the nutrients, drainage and correctly textured soil to enhance its growth and to establish it as a strong and healthy plant. Whether planting vegetables, flowers or grass seed, soil structure and composition are among the most important factors in the success of any planting.
Clearing the Area and Mixing the Soil
Using a rake or shovel, clear the area, removing any plants or grass that is occupying the new garden space. Place these organic materials aside for use in your compost bin later. If you are going to do a soil test, collect your samples now and bring them to your local agricultural extension for testing. This can identify the pH content of your soil, which will tell you if you need to add certain elements to the soil.
Dig and turn the soil with your shovel or a rototiller, if desired, until the soil has been dug and turned to at least 1 foot deep. If you are planning to plant root crops, such as carrots or potatoes, you might want to dig to 1 1/2 feet to be sure they have ample space to grow. Remove any rocks that you find in this space and use them decoratively in another part of your landscape.
Add fresh composted materials from your compost bin by spreading it on top of the soil, then turning it down into the soil using your shovel, rake or rototiller. At this time, if your soil is sandy, you might want to add some bagged top soil as well and if your soil is predominantly clay, sprinkle the area with lime powder to help raise the pH.
Apply any additives that were recommended during your soil test if you chose to have one done. If you are doing the preparation work more than a month before planting time, you can add shredded leaves, grass clippings, or composted manures and other organic materials to the soil to aid in building nutrients.
Place the materials that you pulled out of the garden space into your compost bin to start the composting process for next season.
Mix and water the materials several times over the next few weeks, allowing air and water to be equally distributed and to break up any clumps of dirt.
Test your soil periodically by picking up a handful and feeling the texture. It should ideally be the size of bread crumbs, with a light, smooth and airy feeling. When it is watered, the soil should soak up the water and retain moisture, but the water shouldn't sit in puddles for more than 30 seconds or so--it should drain off spreading moisture to the soil beneath.