Straightforward Tips for Soil Improvement

My Garden Life
March 17, 2021
Table of Contents
Good soil is the foundation for great gardening, but not every gardener is blessed with a nutrient-rich loam with perfect drainage. Soil improvement is possible, but it takes a little effort.

Luckily, you can improve your yard’s soil quality by digging it over with new materials, putting right any deficiencies or problems. But what can you add to your beds, and why?

1. Ready-Made Compost

The quickest and easiest way to improve your soil is to buy in high-quality compost from your local nursery or garden center. You can choose the exact formulation you need for your favorite plants. Plus, you can give your soil a boost in the time it takes to empty the bags and dig over your beds. But, if you’re treating more than a small area, this method quickly becomes expensive.

Bags of commercial compost are a good choice for soil improvement.

2. Home-Made Compost

For a cheaper but longer-term project, it’s a great idea to start making your own compost to use for routine soil improvement. Nearly any organic material can be added to a compost heap. Within a few months it will rot down into nutritious, organic soil which your plants will love.

For the best results, finely chop or shred all your garden cuttings before adding to the heap. This creates a good mix of hard and soft materials.

kitchen scraps in the vegetable garden
If you want to add kitchen waste, use only raw fruit and vegetables. Meat and dairy products, as well as most cooked foodstuffs, will attract the wrong kind of local wildlife.

3. Spent Mushroom Compost

The spent compost used for commercial mushroom growing can enjoy a second useful life in your garden. Compared to most commercial composts it’s inexpensive. It’s no longer useful for mushroom growing, but it’s still full of nutrients to benefit your plants and organic matter to improve drainage.

White mushrooms growing on soil.

4. Chipped Bark

Bark chips won’t add nutrients in the short term, but they’re a quick and effective way of improving drainage in heavy soils. But, take care over adding decorative bark to your soil. Often it’s weatherproofed with chemical preservatives and these won’t do your soil any favors. Save colored or stained bark chippings for pathways and other areas you specifically want to keep free of plant growth.

bark mulch on a perennial border

5. Leaf Mold

Fall leaves aren’t suitable for adding to a compost heap in large numbers. They take too long to decompose, and slow down the activity in your heap.

pile of composting leaves

Simply pile them up somewhere out of the way. After a year or so, they’ll transform into a friable compost that is packed with nutrients and great for soil improvement. Leaf mold is also great for improving texture and drainage.

For quicker and more reliable results, moisten the piled leaves. Then, cover the leaves with a sheet of plastic.

6. Wood Ash

If you have a wood-burning stove or open fire, the ashes left behind can be useful in the garden for soil improvement. In small amounts, wood ash improves a soil’s nutrient content as well as its texture. But be careful, wood ash is alkaline, and adding too much will make the soil unsuitable for most plants. If in doubt, buy a pH tester for your soil to make sure its alkaline level stays close to neutral.

bucket of wood ash for soil improvement

7. Rotted Manure

Animal waste has been used for soil improvement and as a fertilizer throughout history. It offers exceptional results. Horse manure is the most used type, but whichever kind you choose, make sure it’s well-rotted before applying it to your soil. Fresh, raw manure will be too strong, and can chemically burn or scorch tender plants. Just as bad, it will also deplete nitrogen and other nutrients from the soil as it begins to rot down.

goats and chickens on a farm

Earthworms for Soil Improvement

Earthworms make good soil even better! Earthworms are a welcome garden resident and a sign that your efforts to improve your soil are paying off. Earthworms love soils that are loose, moist and rich in organic matter. Their tunneling helps loosen and aerate the soil. Plus, the waste earthworms produce from eating organic debris is a great source of nutrients.

two hands holding an earthworm and soil

Your soil is the wellspring of your gardening efforts. Taking the time to improve it with one or more of these materials will reward you with healthier, more vigorous plants. Richer soil also reduces the need for fertilizers and other chemical additions.
If you’re uncertain which of the above amendments to add to your garden, use our basic test to evaluate your soil.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts

Guide to Direct Composting

Guide to Direct Composting

Try direct composting: the no-mess, no-fuss method for making compost from your kitchen food waste.
How to Test Soil pH

How to Test Soil pH

Here’s how to do a simple soil pH test from items you probably already have in your kitchen. Once you determine whether your soil is acidic or alkaline, we have recommendations for soil amendments that can bring the soil back into the neutral pH range.
A Soil Calculator for Raised Beds and Containers

A Soil Calculator for Raised Beds and Containers

Before you make the trip to the garden center to buy potting or raised bed soil, you can easily determine how much you'll need using a simple soil calculator formula.

Related Posts

Time-Saving Tip: Mulch

Time-Saving Tip: Mulch

Biochar: A New Trend in Soil Amendment

Biochar: A New Trend in Soil Amendment

Plant Food 101

Plant Food 101

frost map with dates

Frost Map with Dates

USDA zone finder with zip code search and maps

USDA Zone Finder

plant library

Plant Library

Save plants to your personal library

Join My Garden Club to access more features

Already a member?
Log in now

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share this post with your friends!