How to Make Rich Soil


Building up organic matter in your garden soil yield nothing but positive things. A rich soil supports lush plant growth that is productive in flower and fruit as well as a hospitable environment for wildlife from earthworms to ladybugs and honeybees. Depending on your initial native soil make-up, the time and amount of work involved to improve the soil, making it rich, varies, depending on climate and your own resources.

Step 1

Dig a sample of your soil with a shovel and allow the soil to crumble on the ground. Identify and describe your soil type: is it heavy and clay-like, soft and crumbly loam, or loose sand? Familiarize yourself with the soil, noting how long it remains wet after a rain, how it feels when dry and if any animals or insects are seen living in it.

Step 2

Purchase a power roto-tiller to facilitate large-scale cultivation of the top 6 to 12 inches of soil on your property. Till the soil to break up the top layers, removing any rocks or objects when encountered.

Step 3

Scatter a thick layer, 2 to 5-inches, of organic soil amendment atop the soil and incorporate it into the soil. Compost, well-cured manure, pine bark fines or leaf mold are great amendments to immediately add to soil to improve its fertility, texture, and drainage.

Step 4

Continue to layer organic matter on the soil and allow it to decompose. Every 2 to 4 months a new organic mulch or amendment can be scattered on the soil and incorporated. Top dressing mulches need not be tilled into the soil, but allow them to slowly decompose and add humus to the soil. Pine bark, pine straw, hardwood chips and dry grass clippings serve a dual purpose of being a weed-suppressing mulch as well as adding nutrients and humus to the soil.

Step 5

Plant a cover crop and till it into the soil so the roots and silage of the crop adds organic matter. Buckwheat, winter peas, vetch or bush beans are nice crops to plant and then overturn into soil.

Step 6

Repeatedly add organic matter across the months and years to gradually improve and perpetuate the rich, humusy texture and quality of the topsoil. Even after one year of adding organic matter to the soil, a vast improvement in drainage, fertility and texture can already be identified. Imagine what 2 or 5 years' worth of soil amendments will do for it?

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not place wet or actively rotting materials onto your topsoil if you are already growing plants, as decomposing matter draws nitrogen from its surroundings, including the soil upon it rests. Allow two to four layers of organic mulch to remain on your soil to naturally decompose, do not pile the matter too deeply too quickly. Oxygen and rainwater should be able to penetrate through the mulch to help it decompose as well as be able to reach the soil layers below.

Things You'll Need

  • Organic matter: compost and mulch
  • Shovel
  • Rake
  • Roto-tiller


  • Improve Your Garden Soul
  • NCSU: Improving Your Soil
  • "Improve Your Soils with Cover Crops"; Barbara Pleasant, 2009.
Keywords: improving soil, compost, organic matter

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for The Public Garden, Docent Educator, numerous non-profit newsletters and for's comprehensive plant database. He holds a Master's degree in Public Horticulture from the University of Delaware and studied horticulture and biology in Australia at Murdoch University and the University of Melbourne's Burnley College.