How to - Gardening Basics

How to amend your soil

Learn how to improve your soil quality for better gardens

Solving soil problems
If you have soil with poor texture or density, try the following:

Double dig: Dig a trench as wide as your spade, and as deep. Pile the soil from this first trench on a sheet of plastic. Loosen and amend the soil in the bottom of the trench to another spade depth. Dig another trench directly beside the first trench and put the excavated soil in the first trench; continue until you hit the last trench and then put the soil on the plastic sheet from the first in it. In all my years of gardening I have never done this, but some people swear by it.

Raised beds: Double dig the soil and add enough moistened coir and compost or manure to raise the soil at least 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 centimetres) above ground level. Always mix coir with other soil amenders; on its own it’s sterile.

Lead in the soil: Though lead hasn’t been used in paint or gasoline for some time, there is still the possibility that it might have built up in the soil, especially if you live near a parking lot or busy road. By adding lots of compost and manure, you can decrease lead absorption. By maintaining neutral soil of pH 6.5 to 7, you’ll also be able to limit the build-up of lead in the soil.

Rocky soil: If you have a lot of rocks on your property, you can use them in the garden. Position plants that like hot, dry conditions near large rocks. Place smooth, flat rocks near plants that like cool, moist conditions – put rocks over the roots of clematis, for instance.

Buying soil
If you must buy topsoil, be careful. Try to find out where it came from. If it’s from a field that was planted with corn, it may be filled with toxic chemicals. In that case, don’t buy it. Of course, it is likely to have come from the nearest housing development. The valuable topsoil is removed and sold, leaving new homeowners with nothing but subsoil and clay. If you’re in this situation, bump up the soil first before you go through the heartbreak of putting in a garden and watching it struggle. Use huge amounts of compost and manure to create healthy soil and keep it that way. Don’t be tempted by quick solutions.

Instead of buying soil, you can prepare your own potting soil mix – particularly if you have fears about vermiculite, which may contain asbestos, in commercial mixes. A combination of clean soil, sand (builder’s or horticultural sand is very gritty) and compost is a very good growing medium.

I don’t mess around with soil by cultivating it once it’s been planted. I like to think I’m not disturbing the complex life or delicate root systems that exist down there. After all, the most beneficial life in the soil is in the top inch (2.5 centimetres)

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