How to Prepare Soil

Prepared garden soil image by Slartibartfast, Morguefile


Soil forms the backbone of the garden. Proper preparation of the soil base in your landscape can make the difference between success with your plants and complete failure. The basic requirements of plants are proper sunlight, water and nutrients obtained through the soil. Learning how to prepare soil for a planting bed involves analyzing the existing soil quality and adding soil conditioners to improve growing conditions. Preparing soil does involve some work, but you'll be giving your plants the very best chance to survive and thrive in a healthy environment.

Step 1

Mark out your garden area and remove all weeds using a shovel and trowel. Dig deeply beneath each plant to remove as much if the root as possible. If weed roots trail in every direction under the soil, follow the runner despite the tedium. Do not chop up weeds with a rototiller for quicker removal--you're simply making hundreds of little weeds. Raking pulls the tops off the weeds, leaving the roots behind to grow another day. This initial weed removal, when performed diligently, will make maintenance of the garden much easier.

Step 2

Turn over the top 12 inches of the garden using a rototiller or shovel. Turning over a garden involves stirring up the dirt to aerate and loosen the top layers. Imagine dumping chocolate cake mix into a bowl and stirring the powdered mix. Break up dirt clods with the shovel as needed. Till the entire garden plot from front to back, just like you'd stir cake mix in a bowl.

Step 3

Rake the garden to level the surface. This makes application of soil amendments more uniform. Amendments will amount to 1/4 of the soil volume of the garden, based on recommendations by the University of Illinois Extension Service. This translates to 3 to 4 inches poured on top of the soil before tilling.

Step 4

Pour soil amendments onto the soil, spreading them along the entire top surface of the soil. Peat moss aerates the soil and helps with moisture absorption. Compost and manure boost the soil nutrients to aid plant development. Soil conditioner functions as a combination of peat moss and compost, including both nutrients and aerators for soil improvement. Adding amendments of any type to the soil will improve its quality.

Step 5

Till or use a shovel to turn over the entire garden again. Move slowly if you're using a rototiller to allow the additives to be worked throughout the soil. Break up clods with a rake and shovel. Level the garden as much as possible. Planting your shrubs and flowers will be a breeze in the loosened soil.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Trowel
  • Rototiller
  • Rake
  • Compost
  • Soil conditioner
  • Manure
  • Peat moss


  • Lewis Gardens
  • University of Illinois Extension
  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension
Keywords: garden soil, preparing soil, amending soil

About this Author

S.F. Heron is an avid gardener with over three years of experience in online writing and a working background in aviation and earth and ocean sciences. She is published on various websites and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

Photo by: Slartibartfast, Morguefile