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Soil Preparation

By S.F. Heron ; Updated September 21, 2017
The common round blade shovel is a powerful soil preparation tool.

Preparing garden soil involves the physical cultivation of the soil as well as the inclusion of additives to prepare the soil for plants. Soil forms the home for annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees and ground cover. This medium retains and percolates water as well as forms the foundation of nutrients to nourish plant roots.


Enriched garden soil provides long-lasting benefits to each plant. Deep cultivation of the soil promotes easy root growth as plants establish in the garden. Mixing in organic matter improves drainage, breaks up heavy soils and provides direct nutrients to plant roots.

Soil Formation

Soil forms over a long period of time through the breakdown of rock particles, clay and sand. The perfect soil contains these three items as well as decaying plant material, beneficial organisms, water and air. Gardeners can't speed up the soil formation process but they can improve soil before planting.

Organic Amendments

Amendments refer to additives mixed into the soil very much like adding ingredients when making cookies. These additives supply whatever the soil lacks to promote better plant growth and health. Additives include organic materials such as compost, peat moss and manure. High organic content in soil doesn't harm the plant, so make this addition a regular practice during soil preparation.

Physical Preparation

Soil preparation involves mixing up the top 8 to 12 inches of dirt in the planting bed. Use a rototiller, shovel or cultivator to loosen the top layers of soil. You may notice soil becomes compacted with each deeper shovelful. Turning over a garden eliminates the compaction and facilitates the spread of plant roots in fluffy soil. This hard work will pay off with strong plants. Incorporate soil amendments in a 2- to 4-inch layer across the top of the garden after the initial tilling of the soil. Perform a second round of tilling to mix the amendment deeply into the loosened soil.


Soil requires maintenance to continually meet the needs of landscape plants. Add a high quality, all-purpose granular fertilizer (10-10-10) to the planting bed after applying soil amendments. Follow recommendations on packages to apply the correct amount of fertilizer. Commence blending the fertilizer into the soil to a depth of 8 to 12 inches to evenly distribute the product throughout the garden. Organic soil preparation relies on additives alone and doesn't incorporate the use of chemical-based fertilizers.