Improving Garden Soil

February 1, 2010

Improving Garden SoilI have always been an avid gardener without any chemicals. I was anxious to 'get started' in my large garden upon moving into a new home, but our soil was rock hard. I could balance on my spade shovel more easily than turn the soil over. I added peat moss, bone meal, compost; you name it!


Then, when teaching a three year old preschool class the merits of worms for spring. Eureka! Worms! I went to a bait shop and got many little guys and added them to all garden areas. They worked their 'underground magic' and the following spring, my soil was so soft, that a bulb planter could easily be inserted into my soil!

Mother Nature knows what she is doing. We just need to listen more. Happy gardening!

Source: My own adventures.

By laurie from Chicago

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Gold Post Medal for All Time! 523 Posts
January 20, 2015

When thinking about using the water absorbing crystals from disposable diapers to amend your garden, think of a water absorbing crystal as a little water filled packet or reservoir.


Gold Post Medal for All Time! 858 Posts
September 21, 2010

When you put your vegetable garden to bed this fall, consider tucking it in under a cover crop. Also known as "green manure", planting a crop of legumes or cereal grains is a great way to rejuvenate garden soil and get your plants off to the best possible start next season.

Cover crop.


October 1, 2005

Rabbit food (alfalfa pellets) makes a wonderful, inexpensive, natural fertiliser. Simply sprinkle several handfuls around established plants and scratch into the soil, then water well.


In a few minutes, it will 'melt'.


June 3, 2013

I have been recycling all I can with cans. For a while we were crazy about those huge cans of cheese sauce you can buy at the store. I must have bought twenty or more before we became burnt out on the cheese sauce. I didn't want to throw them away.


January 19, 2009

Start preparing the soil by digging in leaves, coffee grounds, vegetable trimmings, leftover vegetables from dinner, hay or straw and anything else you would normally put in a compost bin. It will start decomposing and enrich the soil by planting time.


14 Questions

Here are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community.

March 27, 2005

I love flowers and different plants but the soil at my home does not. I have part sandy soil, part hard clay soil. Some parts the water runs off, other parts I water and it runs right thru, so that the plants seem dry all the time. The area seems to like pine trees and apricot trees and apple trees that will grow and give fruit, but flowers like peonies, roses which I love do not. Does anyone have any ideas to improve the soil in my specific problem area?

Trina from WA


March 28, 20050 found this helpful

I have clay soil and done my homework. I have thousands of flowers and plants. When you buy your flower or plants buy good soil and gypsum.and plant food. Dig the hole ,add gypsum and chop up the clay with the gypsum. Add good soil, plant flower, add food, more soil and cover the top with mulch.


The gypsum breaks up the clay and the mulch keeps in the moisture so u won't have to water so much. Do this every time you plant. Good Luck, Christine

By Susan from hamilton (Guest Post)
March 28, 20050 found this helpful

Compost and add to soil each spring dig it in
All year I put all vegitable matters, lettuce, onion skins, potatoe skins, tomatoe ends, egg shells, coffee grounds no meat into a black bin, I add a little soil and mix it It composts naturally and makes nice black soil, I take from the bottom in the spring and dig into the garden.. Keeps the moisture and my plants just leap out of the soil.
put in leaves in fall and start all over again.

By rosa (Guest Post)
March 28, 20050 found this helpful

COMPOST .COMPOST COMPOST. I have a very large compost pile, and 2 compost makers. would never be without them, also make compost tea ! The plants love a drink of " tea "

By Lynne (Guest Post)
March 28, 20050 found this helpful

I agree with Rosa and Susan: COMPOST. It helps sandy soil retain moisture, and helps loosen clay soil. If you don't have any homemade compost, you can purchase it in bags from any reputable garden center/nursery.

March 29, 20050 found this helpful

You can probably get a soil testing kit from your county extension office, or at some gardening supply stores. Before you go to the expense of adding a ton of organic matter (which may be what it needs anyway,) I would test the soil to find out exactly what is there. It sounds to me like you have some drainage problems, and that in some places your soil is full of clay, and in others, it absorbs the water easily. When you do a soil test, test in several areas so that you can discover how different the soil in various parts of your yard are. The recommendation of adding organic matter is undoubtedly right on, but you need to find out what kind of organic material would be most beneficial. In the future, when you fertilize, I would use one of those long acting fertilizers.


It is less likely to concentrate heavy amounts of stuff in the soil all at once. And it would help a lot if you started a compost heap. You can save your kitchen scraps and throw them in it, along with some worms. It takes a while for the stuff to age and turn into true compost material, but once you start this, you will have a constant supply of the stuff, and you will save yourself a fortune in the long run. You can get specific types of garbage cans to keep in your kitchen, and these cans will hold the scraps, and start the composting process. That way, you don't have to run out to the compost heap every time you fix a meal! Good Luck! Hope this helps!

March 29, 20050 found this helpful

I am not sure that gypsum is the answer. You need organic material and possibly sand mixed with that clay. It may take a while to get enough organic material to do the job. Depending on how much soil you need to improve, you may want to get shredded leaves by the truck load. On the other hand, peat moss is much more manageable but costs a good bit. How do you mix it in?


I recommend a tiller. Rent one or hire a neighbor. Do a soil test for PH while you are at it. You have a low PH and may want to raise it with the addition of lime when you till. Different plants require different PH. Peony needs a higher PH than you have. Where I live, in Southern Maryland, holly, mountain laurel, dog wood and the like thrive in acid soil.


Diamond Feedback Medal for All Time! 1,023 Feedbacks
March 29, 20050 found this helpful

Here is a good article on Improving Clay Soil:

Here's a good article on Improving Sandy Soil:


It seems to me that mixing the two with some organic material might be a good way to improve them both.

Susan from ThriftyFun

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July 28, 2012

My veg garden is in need of some nutrients and it must be the soil. Where can I have a sample of soil analyzed to determine what I need to add to soil to enrich it?

I live in Norwood, Massachusetts, Norfolk County

By Joe Burto


Bronze Post Medal for All Time! 172 Posts
July 30, 20120 found this helpful

The best and most accurate thing you can do to get your soil tested is to go to the county extension service and they can tell you where to send your soil sample into your state extension service. They might even have kits available at your county extension service. I know you have to take samples from 3 or 4 places in your yard as it can vary much. You can also buy them at Walmart and other nurseries but they are not as accurate as when the state does the testing.

July 30, 20120 found this helpful

Contact Information

Phone: (413) 545-2311
Fax: (413) 545-1931

Mailing Address:

Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Lab
West Experiment Station
682 North Pleasant Street
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003

August 2, 20120 found this helpful

My local nursery has the kits, it comes in a little box preaddressed. You just gather sample and mail it in with a check for $10. Ask your nursery if they have something similar.

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July 17, 2011

The soil in my garden seems lifeless. What causes your garden soil to loose nutrients? Vegetables grow, but not to their potential. It just seems lifeless. I am going to test the soil and hopefully be able to add what it is lacking. Thanks for feedback.

By Diane C


July 18, 20110 found this helpful

The testing should be of help to find what you need to add to the soil. You could add compose and lime.


Bronze Post Medal for All Time! 172 Posts
July 20, 20110 found this helpful

I would do a test before adding anything. Lime will be of no help if your soil is sweet to begin with. I think Foxrun meant compost, that will not hurt it at all but I would still test your soil first.

July 20, 20110 found this helpful

I haven't been the most diligent with getting my soil tested, other than the kits you buy at Lowe's because it takes too much time, but one thing I'd say to help is to plant different families of veggies in different places which I know isn't always easy. There are so many things that I grow that are in the cucurbit family; cucumbers, all squash (which is many), melons, and pumpkins. I try to not put them in the exact same spot. It depletes the soil of the nutrients that that particular vegetable required. To make your soil better this is what I do. If I don't have any home made compost (which is scarce) I buy a few bags of humus/manure ($1.47/bag@WalMart) and mix it with peat moss and add it to the soil when I plant, whether one plant or a row or section. Not only is it putting some raw materials back into the earth but it makes your soil more fluffy (I'm sure that's a technical word for experienced gardeners), easier for your veggies to take root, therefore take up the nutrients also. This year because of my past problems with squash bug and cucumber beetle (which destroy everything in the cucurbit family, 3/4 of what I grow) I purchased some beneficial nematodes. Wow! Don't know if it's the combination of it all but my squash plants are the most beautiful green, large leaves, producing machines than I've ever had in my 10-15 yrs of gardening. Hope that's helpful.

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March 13, 2010

The house I'm renting has a area for a garden. Should I change the dirt out, or will it be good?

Hardiness Zone: 9b

By Rosezena from Henderson, NV


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March 14, 20100 found this helpful

Is it a raised bed garden? If so all you need to do is apply some 10-10-10 fertilizer, mix it with the soil before planting, if it needs more composted manure put it in before you add the fertilizer, info is on the bag of fertilizer, good luck.

March 19, 20100 found this helpful

Contact your local Extension Service, they have a kit that you can buy (inexpensive), They tell you how to take several scoops of your soil and give you the container to mail off. In a few weeks you will get the results and it will tell you how to amend your soil if it needs to be amended. jjs fla.

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September 13, 2009

My vegetable garden is done for the season. How do I treat the soil over the winter to prepare for next year. We had lots of rain in June and the garden was not so good this year. My tomotaos were very bad.

By burt from West Islip, NY


Bronze Feedback Medal for All Time! 147 Feedbacks
September 14, 20090 found this helpful

You can plant all kind of greens, lettuce, onions,garlic & English (garden peas) in the fall. Sept is a good time to plant greens, plant English peas in cold weather. In Dec, call your County Extension office,ask for info on gardening. It's free & search online for your question, good luck.

October 10, 20090 found this helpful

I opened a small store and 2 doors down were 2 plants. They needed to be save because no one was watering them. What would be good to give them a healthy treat to bring them back. They look good but just droopy.

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January 26, 2013

I might have posted this already, but I lost server connection so I thought I'd make sure.
I read your article about common items to use in your garden. For example coffee grounds for acidic plants, etc. My question is what if I compost several items such as banana peels, coffee grounds, eggshells, etc. to make a fertilizer to re-nourish a garden plot that has been used several times? Will that mixed compost help?

By Kelli


January 28, 20130 found this helpful

Yes. You can add anything into your compost. But, it is best to avoid adding meats (as they smell and attract animals). Also, don't add any weeds that you have cut, incase the seeds survive. Also, nothing that you sprayed for bugs or to kill.
All my kitchen scraps go into the compost, as well as my yard clippings, and the stuff from when I clean out the fish tanks.

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June 4, 2010

Would triple 13 fertilizer be good to use in sandy loam soil for a vegetable garden?

Hardiness Zone: 9a

By Beckie from Buna, TX


Bronze Feedback Medal for All Time! 147 Feedbacks
June 4, 20100 found this helpful

Some nurseries sell triple phosphate (just P). If you are not 100% organic gardener, any balanced all purpose fertilizer (10-10-10 or 13-13-13) should be fine.
As far as the plants are concerned, fertilizer is fertilizer. Organic in this case is just an environmental issue.
Wood ash is also a good source of Potash(K). K is vey stable and sticks to soil. N is water soluble and will leech out quickly unless the soil is rich in organic matter. P is semi stable.
Good luck.

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September 27, 2022

Knowing how to perfect your plant's soil is the best defense against diseases and unwanted insects. It''s not to say you won't have any bugs or diseases but the soil is like a plant's immune system. The better the soil the stronger the plants growing in it.

man planting petunias in a planter box

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