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How to Improve Dry Soil for Gardening

Arid soil image by Igor Baryshev from

Whether you're growing vegetables, flowers or herbs, your garden soil must be fertile, crumbly and moist. Dry soil makes it difficult for plants to spread their roots and absorb nutrients. Extremely dry conditions will also affect the soil's ability to absorb moisture during heavy rains and may deteriorate topsoil as the water runs off. The addition of organic materials over several seasons will slowly improve dry soil, making it suitable for any plant.

Take some soil into your hand and attempt to crumble it to determine the texture of the soil. Excessively gritty soil is composed of sand. Small sand granules drain too quickly and require the addition of moisture-holding organic material. Clay soil, which clumps in the hand and does not easily break apart, requires the addition of sand.

Test the soil's nutrient levels using a soil pH test. Tests are available from gardening centers, with instructions included. Soil that is 7.0 or above is considered alkaline, while 6.0 and below is considered acidic. Alkaline soil requires the addition of sulfur to balance the pH, while acidic soil requires lime to raise the pH. Apply lime or sulfur at 1 lb. per 1000 square feet.

Add peat moss to the soil to improve its water-holding capabilities. Apply 2 to 3 inches of peat moss per 6 to 8 inches depth using a rototiller. Run the rototiller both horizontally and vertically across the gardening area to work the peat in.

Improve Soil For Grass Growing

Grab a handful of soil, and then roll it into a ball. Press the ball of soil into a ribbon-shaped strip between your fingers and thumb. Hold the ribbon in the air. Put the soil in a bowl and mix it until it is well blended. Add a few drops of vinegar. Take 1 tablespoon of wet soil from six to eight areas. If it fizzes, note that the soil has a pH less than 5.0. Till 12 cubic yards of organic matter per 1,000 square feet in to the top 4 to 6 inches of clay soil. Spread 20 pounds of dolomitic lime per 1,000 square feet in a crisscross application pattern for soil with a pH lower than 4.9. Till the amendments into the top 6 inches of the soil. Mix four parts cottonseed meal, one part phosphate, one-half part lime, two parts greensand and one part gypsum.


For heavy, dry soils, application of peat will need to be done annually for 2 to 3 years before improvement is made.

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