Skip to main content

Downtime projects: How to prepare soil for gardens

There are plenty of ways to garden, but, unless you plan on gardening hydroponically or have air plants, one thing you’ll need for sure is soil. Soil impacts every facet of gardening, from what types of plants you can grow to how quickly the water drains out of it and more. Some plants prefer poor soil, that’s for sure, but the majority of plants enjoy good quality soil. What does that actually mean, though? For all the answers to your questions regarding what good soil is and how to make it or make sure you have it, keep reading!

What makes good soil?

An important place to start is that good soil isn’t right for every plant, and what’s “good” for your plants may not be good quality soil. Good soil is soil that is earthy, somewhat thick, contains organic material, and drains water moderately well. There is a general ratio to work from, but it doesn’t need to be exactly precise. There is some wiggle room, so you don’t need to worry about whether or not your soil fits the exact proportions.

There are a couple ways you can tell if your existing garden soil is good soil or not. The first way is by sight or feel, which is a quick assessment but isn’t always accurate. If your soil is rocky, sandy, or thin, it may be less than good. The more reliable, but slightly slower, method is to test your soil for nutrients. Testing your soil can let you know exactly what quality your soil is and allow you to target your improvement efforts based on what specifically your soil is lacking.

Gloved hands holding soil with different colored balls of fertilizer in it
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What supplies do you need?

There are only a few things you need to make good soil. First, you need a base soil of some kind. If you have access to the ground, and you don’t have only clay and rocks in your yard or garden, your garden soil will work just fine as a base. If you live somewhere without access to the ground, like an apartment, or are planning on making soil for containers, you can buy soil. Since you’re already going to improve it, you don’t need to worry about getting high quality potting soil, either!

The second thing you need is the material with which you will improve your soil. Typically, this is compost or something compost adjacent. It does need to contain organic material, and compost is the easiest route, as it should be fairly balanced naturally. However, if you don’t have compost on hand, you can use a mix of some organic material, such as shredded leaves, and some balanced fertilizer.

How do you make good soil?

The simple answer is to mix your base soil with the compost, organic matter, and/or fertilizer. That isn’t exactly the most helpful answer, though, so here are a few helpful numbers for you. If you’re scientifically minded, then you can measure out the exact ratio, but otherwise you can just eyeball it.

For traditional, outdoor gardens and landscapes you want to aim for about 30% compost to 70% soil. Spread a layer of an inch or two of compost or organic material-fertilizer blend on top of your garden bed and work it into the soil. You want to spread it through the top six inches of your soil as evenly as possible.

For containers and pots, the ratio is 25% compost or compost-adjacent material to 75% soil. This is easier to measure, especially for containers! Simply fill your container three-fourths of the way full with soil, then top it off with your improving material, and mix thoroughly.

Shovel in pile of dirt compost
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Can you buy good soil?

You can! There is plenty of preprepared and packaged soil that you can get online or in person. When choosing the soil you want, look for any information on the bag or from the manufacturer’s website regarding what the soil contains or any information about the types of plants or environments the soil is optimized for.

Now you’re all set to make some good quality soil for your garden! Whether you’re growing indoors or out, have compost on hand or are shredding leaves into fertilizer, or starting with your own soil or store bought, you really can’t go wrong. Just follow this simple recipe for good soil, and watch your plants thrive.

Editors' Recommendations

Cayla Leonard
Cayla Leonard is a writer from North Carolina who is passionate about plants.  She enjoys reading and writing fiction and…
How to propagate your jasmine from cuttings to spread the fragrant love
From cutting stems to air layering, here's what you need to know about propagating jasmine
Crepe Jasmine flowers

A lovely note in floral perfumes, jasmine is one of the most fragrant plants out there and features a light, sweet scent when in full bloom. If you need more jasmine in your life, then you'll be thrilled to learn that jasmine is simple to propagate. There are three different methods for creating more of this beautiful, fragrant plant. Interested in learning how to propagate jasmine? Then this is the guide for you! We'll explain the three simple methods you can use to fill your garden and home with jasmine.

When should you propagate jasmine?
The ideal time to propagate jasmine is right after it blooms, which is usually during the spring or summer. Around this time of year, you'll likely be pruning your plant anyway, so it's an opportune time to pick out some cuttings from fresh stems while you're shaping your jasmine.

Read more
5 November garden plants you should consider growing
Here are the best plants to get started for late fall
Close-up of daffodils in sunlight

November is the end of autumn and the beginning of winter, so it isn’t typically a time when people think about working in their gardens. However, November can still be a productive gardening month! We’ve prepared a list of five plants that you can grow in your garden this November — we’ll even give you tips and tricks for growing them, what climates they grow best in, and when you can expect to see results. If you aren’t planning on planting a cover crop this winter, try out one of these November garden plants.

Daffodils are spring-blooming flowers, but they’re often planted in the fall. Daffodil bulbs should be planted two or three weeks before the ground freezes, so keep an eye on your local weather for the best results. In mild climates, daffodils can be planted as late as the end of November, while those in cooler climates may need to plant them in September or October.

Read more
How to press roses and save your treasured memories
Here are 3 easy ways to press roses
Pressed flowers

Roses make lovely additions to gardens, but they’re also great for bringing your craft projects to the next level. In most cases, you’re probably not going to be using fresh roses, so pressed ones are the way to go. Pressed roses can add a whimsical, elevated feel to many DIY ventures, and they’re pretty easy to make. If you’re wondering how to press roses, then read ahead to learn three different methods for preserving your treasured memories.

3 methods for pressing roses
1. How to press roses with a book 
Pressing your roses between a book is perhaps the most traditional and least hands-on way to go about preserving them. All you need is a heavy book, your roses, and two sheets of paper — you can use blotting paper, paper towels, or newspapers. Gently arrange your flowers as you wish, then place them between the two sheets of paper. For the heaviest weight on the flowers possible, choose a section toward the end of your book, and then put the covered roses in between the pages and close the book.

Read more