How to Choose a Soil Amendment

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Good gardens start with good soil; ideal garden soil is black and crumbly, much like what you'd find in a bag of potting soil. The key is working in the right amendments - materials that improve the soil. What amendments you should work in depend on your type of soil.

Things You'll Need

  • Compost
  • Garden Spades
  • Perlite
  • Rototillers
  • Sand
  • Spading Forks
  • Sphagnum Peat Moss
  • Vermiculite
  • Determine how fast your soil drains (See "Check Soil Drainage") to roughly identify the quality of your soil: sandy, clay or (if you're very lucky) loam.

  • Select an addition of compost, sand (unless the clay has a greenish color) and sphagnum peat moss for clay soils.

  • Select an addition of compost and sphagnum peat moss for sandy soils.

  • Make sure the area you're improving is relatively free of weeds.

  • Dig some of the surrounding lawn into the soil (if your garden is in an area where there's lawn) - it will break down and add valuable organic matter.

  • Spread the amendments onto the area you're improving. Be generous. For a new bed, you should add at least three to four inches of compost.

  • Work in the amendments using a garden spade or spading fork. A tiller is also useful, especially for large areas, and tends to break up the soil more finely - a definite plus.

  • Work the soil as deeply as you can. A depth of two feet is ideal, but 18 inches is acceptable.

Tips & Warnings

  • Most soils also are improved with the addition of perlite and vermiculite, which both loosen the soil and help it retain moisture. However, perlite and vermiculite can be prohibitively expensive to add in large quantities.
  • If you use a tiller, use the largest you can find. Small tillers go down just a few inches while larger models go down as much as a foot.
  • Work in amendments only when the soil is moist - never too dry or too wet, which (in either case) will make the soil unnecessarily difficult to dig and will create clods, ruining the soil texture. If the soil is very dry, you can turn a hose on the area to moisten it. And if it's wet, wait until it naturally dries out a little.

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