Gardeners hear over and over that loam soil is the best soil for almost all gardening situations. But you may be wondering what loam soil is. Loam soil is a relatively equal mixture of the three particle types--clay, sand and silt--that comprise soil. Clay particles are very small, compacted and slow draining. Sand particles are large and don't hold water well, but allow good aeration. Silt particles are somewhere in between clay and sand. Few gardeners are blessed with naturally perfect soil, but whether you have sandy or clay soil, the process for improving it is the same.
Scoop soil samples from your garden area and place into the plastic bags or vials that came with the soil test kit from your county extension office. Take samples from several areas in your yard, as indicated by the soil test kit. Seal the soil sample and place it in the provided envelope. Mail your soil test to your county extension office. In a few weeks, you'll receive a soil analysis report detailing the particle makeup and nutrient levels of your soil, as well as the pH level. The report will include recommendations for improving your soil.
Spread an evenly proportioned 2-inch layer of compost, manure and peat moss over your soil after removing any rocks and weeds. Also, add any amendments recommended by your soil analysis report to adjust unbalanced pH levels. Wet the peat moss with a garden hose until it is very moist, but not dripping, before adding it to the garden. Peat moss is effective at lightening soil, but when added to a garden area dry it will wick moisture from the soil and plants.
Dig into your soil to a depth of 6 inches with your shovel, turning the soil over and incorporating the soil amendments. Break up dirt clods as you work. Rake the soil to a smooth, level finish.