Preparing the soil properly is an important first step in breaking new ground for a garden, according to the National Gardening Association. A little prep work now saves you time later when you won't need to maintain or weed your garden as much. Wait to buy plants until after you have prepared your garden. That way, you'll be able to survey your area, figure out which areas receive what amounts of sun and if certain areas retain water. When you purchase your plants, be armed with this information so you can select plants that grow best in your area.
Select a level, well-drained spot that receives at least six hours of full sun each day.
Mark out the area with stakes or string or simply drag a shovel around the area to make an indention for the boundaries.
Till the garden area with a rake or rototiller down to a depth of 8 inches until the soil loosens. Pull all weeds, rocks and sticks from the soil. Dispose of them in a outdoor trash container. For less labor-intensive weed removal, apply a glyphosate herbicide to the area or lay cardboard or black plastic over the area for several weeks during hot weather to smother the weeds. Using black plastic also heats the ground to destroy soil-borne diseases--an important step if placing a garden in an area that previously had a garden.
Perform a soil test on the garden area. Take four small samples from different areas of the garden. Mix the samples in a bucket. Use a purchased soil test or contact your local extension office, which will usually perform a soil test for free. Use the mixed soil samples to perform the test.
Add amendments to the garden area based on the results of your soil test. Adjust for soil pH by adding ground limestone or sulfur to the area. Improve drainage, fertility and water-holding capacity by adding organic material such as compost, peat moss or manure. Apply a 1- to 2-inch layer of amendments to the soil.
Till the garden amendments into the soil to a depth of 8 inches, working in rows until the soil looks and feels loose.