All About Healthy Garden Soil

good garden soil

To grow well, plants need healthy soils that deliver the nutrients and conditions they require. This guide will simplify understanding how to improve your garden’s dirt.

What Is Healthy Soil?

Soils that are healthy are alive. While made up of minerals and carbon based matter, horticulturally good growing mediums are much more than that. They are alive with microorganisms, they have texture and structure, and as a gardener you help tend that underground world.


Fine or clumpy? The texture will depend on whether sand, clay, or silt particles comprise the major part of the whole. Size of the granules control the flow of water and the amount of air in the ground. Sand is largest and most loose, silt is finer, and clay particles are the finest of all and can clump so closely there may be no room for roots to easily penetrate.

This texture impacts ability to hold moisture and nutrients, as well as whether the land is prone to erosion.

Use the clay test I described for determining clay soil: make a ball out of moist soil- does it fall apart or hold together? Remember playing with clay in art class? If you can roll it out into a long coil, it is primarily clay. That ability to clump is why my first rule for dealing with heavy clay soils is not to work them while wet.

Texture of your soil can be modified with addition of organic matter.

As the test indicates- you can sometimes use simple observation to know about your garden’s health and condition. Professional analysis will give you detailed accurate information, but you may be able to see if your plants need more nitrogen or potassium, for example, if you learn the signs of deficiency.

Back to Contents


Working wet clay changes the structure- it compacts the soil and makes it even more difficult for roots and water flow once the clay dries. Walking on the ground impacts structure, and so does plowing or tilling.

Soil structure is improved by adding amendments which hold moisture makes the dirt more “crumbly” and open to receiving seeds and allowing their roots to grow well.

Good structure and texture combine in the term, “tilth”. Keeping a garden in good tilth means preventing compaction and creating an organically rich medium for plants.

Back to Contents

Acidity and Alkalinity, or pH

The basic pH of a soil is determined by its makeup, and little can be done to change that long-term. In the short term, amendments and solutions are added to soils to help them become friendlier to  specific plants.

It is a losing battle to try to grow plants in an opposite pH condition, they simply won’t thrive. Match the plant to the pH and other conditions in your garden.

Basically, The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14 with 7 marking neutral soil. The higher the number the more alkaline, and conversely the lower, the more acid. Most garden plants do best in a neutral to slightly acid soil. those which love acid conditions are called ericaceous (heath-loving)

To determine the levels of acid or alkaline in your ground, simple tests are available, or you can take samples to your county extension agent for a detailed analysis.

Why is pH important? The plants ability to use nutrients in the soil. Adjusting it through additions of lime for increasing the sweetness or sulphur to make it more acidic can improve plant health. This is why knowledge about a plants range and the soil conditions are an important part of making a garden.

Back to Contents


Amending the soil is simply adding things to it. Those things depend on how you are trying to improve the environment for your plants.

Compost is sometimes called “black gold” by gardeners because it adds so much to condition and fertilize the soil.
There are many other amendments: peat moss, bone, blood, and cotton meal, gypsum, leaf-mold, and the list goes on. Each provides nutrients or something to make the environment better for growing certain plants.

Adding Nutrients

Fertilizers are important amendments which return nutrients to ground which is lacking or spent. Many soil tests will give information on which nutrients are lacking, with specifics on not just the big 3 (Nitrogen Phosphorus K -Potassium), but other important nutrients are calcium, magnesium and sulfur. Trace elements or micronutrients are iron, manganese, zinc, copper, boron and molybdenum.

Be aware that pH can impact whether these are released for the plants use.

Back to Contents


Changing the topsoil is possible with additions such as lime or sulfur (these change the pH) to allow greater nutrient uptake.

Mulching and adding compost also changes the structure of the soil. “Dust mulching” is the cultivation of only the surface in order to make it more powdery and less conducive to newly sprouted weeds.

Some adjustments are large scale, like deep plowing before winter, some are small scale like adding organic mulch to a surface and allowing it to decompose.

Once the texture, structure, nutrient analysis, and pH are determined, the necessary amendments are figured for creating a healthy garden soil.

Back to Contents

Know More About Improving Your Garden Soil

soil amendments

soil amendments

Be sure to educate yourself about composting, it is the easiest way to add organic matter to your ground. It also is recycling waste, responsibly. Be sure to follow the guideline in what materials can be composted, especially for food gardens.

More about pH 5 Tips for Clay Soil Your Best Soil Soil improvement All About Compost Make a Great Garden Mulch for Moisture

Back to top


, , ,

Posted on

February 3