It’s that time again. With the weather warming up, a sense of excitement about gardening always sets in. Whether you’re a first-time gardener or you’re returning to your garden after winter, let’s talk about simple ways to prepare your soil for the gardening season. 3 Steps to Get Your Soil Ready for Planting.
Clean Up Your Yard
Before you think aobut soil, you should clear away any old plant debris. Fallen leaves, branches and other organic matter can provide a perfect home for garden pests. If you know the organic matter comes from a safe source, you can add it to your compost pile. Any organic matter from infected plants or other questionable sources should be discarded immediately.
While you’re cleaning up your lawn, look for obvious signs of pests, such as chewed leaves, aphids, snails or slugs.
Do a Soil Test
A soil test will determine your soil type, what nutrients are in it, what nutrients it’s lacking, and if it contains any toxins. Obtaining this information is the first step to amending your soil for gardening. You can do a simple test at home to look at the composition of your soil.
Grab a pint-sized jar and towel and follow these steps:
- Dig down at least 6 inches into the soil and scoop some out into your jar. If you plan to plant a large garden, you may want to test several areas of the yard.
- Fill the pint jar halfway with soil, and then add a few drops of liquid dish soap. Fill the jar the rest of the way with water.
- Put the lid of the jar on tightly and shake for 3 minutes. Set it aside to settle for 24 hours. You should then see the individual layers that make up your soil. Loamy soil is the ideal composition for gardening, but other soil types can be amended to work for planting.
Testing for toxins will require sending the sample away, but this step is extremely important to urban gardeners who may have lead in their soil. If your garden is near the road or near an older building, the chances of lead or other toxins in the soil increase exponentially. Luckily, it’s okay to plant in soils with lead. For families with children, you should ensure a level of 100 ppm, but if children aren’t a concern you can safely eat plants from soil with up to 300 ppm.
Here are a few steps for working with toxic soil:
- Always wear gloves and a face mask to reduce exposure to soil dust.
- Remove outer leaves from leafy crops and peel any root vegetables. Wash all produce in soapy water or water with vinegar to remove any traces of soil.
- Consider a home pH test. Maintaining a pH of 6.5 will make lead less available in the soil.
Till Your Soil
Tilling your soil helps eliminate weeds, aerates the soil and makes it easier to work with. You can till small gardens by hand, but a rototiller or something similar is ideal for larger spaces. After working your soil and removing plant matter, you can start adding ingredients to help your specific soil. Here are a few tips:
- Clay soil can be amended by adding organic matter, such as manure or compost. Till any decayed organic material 4-6 inches deep in your soil.
- Sandy soil doesn’t retain moisture, so adding biochar can help. Once the biochar is in your soil, you should add fertilizer or compost. Mulching your plants once they’re established will help retain moisture.
- Acidic soil can be mixed with lime and compost to lower the acidity to a more acceptable level, while alkaline soil will benefit from the addition of sulfur.
- While amending your soil pH and nutrients, you should regularly check the soil’s progress. Soil amendments like lime work slowly over time. Adding too much won’t help speed up the process. You have to be patient and test regularly until your soil reaches the desired state.
Once your soil has been tilled, tested and amended, it’s ready for planting. Preparing your soil may seem time consuming, but the process is worth it. Healthy soil leads to a healthy garden and bountiful harvests. You get back from the soil what you put into it, so the time and effort you devote to it is a wise investment.