How to Prepare Dirt for Planting


Whether you are planting trees, grass, a vegetable or flower garden, successful growth relies on how well prepared the dirt is before you begin planting. Adding organic matter can alleviate most soil problems while improving the physical condition--or tilth--of the soil. Proper planning and preparation can transform even infertile, poorly draining dirt to nutrient-rich soil suitable for planting.

Step 1

Begin ground preparation in the fall if possible. Preparing the dirt in the fall and allowing it to rest for the winter will help reduce some weeds and condition the soil, making it easier to work with.

Step 2

Obtain a pH test kit to determine the nutrient value of the soil. Using the kit, test an area where you will be planting. The goal is to achieve a reading that is between 6 and 7. Less than 7 is acidic; more than 7 is alkaline. Add sulfur to increase acidity or limestone to reduce acidity of the soil.

Step 3

Using a tiller or plow (depending on the availability of heavy equipment and the size of your planting area) go over the planting area to turn the ground one time. Remove and discard any rocks or debris.

Step 4

Distribute organic matter relatively evenly to the top of the turned ground with a garden rake. The amount added will be determined by the pH test.

Step 5

Using a tiller or plow, go back over the ground and lightly till the organic matter into the soil. Allow the tines to dig at least 6 inches into the dirt to blend the organic matter into the soil.

Step 6

Re-test the dirt using the pH testing kit. If test results are less than 6 or more than 7, add more organic matter, blend it in and re-test. Continue this pattern until your goal for the pH test is reached.

Step 7

Allow the area to rest during the winter months. Ground that repetitively freezes and thaws is "conditioning" itself for spring.

Step 8

Till or plow the planting area in early spring when the ground has thawed and is workable.

Step 9

Test the soil prior to planting with a pH test. It may sound as overkill, but over the course of several months the dynamics of the soil can change. Add organic matter if necessary.

Things You'll Need

  • pH test kit
  • Tiller
  • Plow (optional)
  • Organic matter: humus, compost or well-rotted manure
  • Sulfur
  • Limestone
  • Garden rake


  • University of Vermont Extension: Planting the Garden and Other May Gardening Tips
  • University of Illinois Extension: Prepare and Care for the Soil Properly
  • University of Maryland Extension: Grow It, Eat It!

Who Can Help

  • Texas A&M University Agriculture Extension Service: Humus - It's the Dirt
Keywords: prepare dirt, prepare soil, get garden ready

About this Author

Patricia Hill is a freelance writer who contributes to several sites and organizations, including eHow, Associated Content, Break Studios and various private sectors. She also contributes to the online magazine,