Preparing a new planting area for a flower or vegetable garden is an important step in making sure your plants grow healthy and produce plenty of fragrant flowers or tasty, healthy food for your family. Depending upon the condition of the site you are using for planting, you may need several days to complete the initial clearing steps.
Consider what types of plants you plan to put into this new planting area. Flowers, ornamental plants and vegetables can sometimes have very different soil, water and light requirements, so you'll need to plan shade-loving plants for a new planting area that is shaded most of the day and sunny areas for vegetable gardens.
Remove any grass, lawn, weeds, rocks or other debris from the new planting area. Use a flat spade for areas that have thick grass or other vegetation to ensure that you're cutting several inches into the soil and removing as much plant and root material as possible.
While turning the soil in this step, remove any rocks, stones or other debris that turns up. Pull weeds by hand where possible to ensure that you've gotten as much of the deeply buried roots as possible.
Use a soil pH testing kit from your local garden center or hardware store to test the pH levels of the soil in your planting bed. Some types of plants require a specific soil pH balance level in order to absorb nutrients more effectively. Checking the pH level of your soil is important for soil that's in poor condition, too. An average, or neutral, pH level is 7, and most plants do well with pH levels ranging from 6.5 to 7.2.
Checking the pH levels is important to do before you add compost, organic materials, or any other soil amendments because you may need more of one additive or less of another if the pH levels are much more acidic or alkaline than your plants can tolerate.
Plants need to get air and water to their roots in order to grow and thrive properly, and this means they need good drainage in their planting space. Test how well your planting area drains by digging a hole about 18 inches deep and filling it with water in the evening. If the water has fully drained out of the hole by morning then the soil drainage is good. If water is still in the hole, however, you'll need to add more organic material and compost to help improve the drainage so that your plants won't drown each time you try to water them.
Add several inches of finished compost, dried leaves, grass, straw, hay or similar organic materials to the planting area. Finished compost can be spread and raked evenly on top, but coarser materials such as straw and hay should be mixed into the soil to create pockets for air and water.