How to Fix Bad Soil

No matter how poor your soil is, you can have rich, fertile planting beds with no digging and no tilling.

Things You'll Need

  • Organic Matter
  • Peat Moss
  • Garden Hose
  • Newspaper
  • Stakes and string, or long rope

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Mark off your site in late summer or early fall, using stakes and string, a rope or a garden hose as guidelines. Leave the turf in place. Trample any tall weeds, but you needn't cut them.

Lay a 1-inch (2.5-cm) layer of newspapers over the site, overlapping the edges as you go. Wet them down thoroughly. Spread 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) of peat moss over the paper.

Cover the peat with 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) of organic matter such as compost, well-cured manure, leaves, dried grass clippings, seaweed, shredded paper--or any combination thereof. Avoid oils, fats and animal protein.

Add alternate layers of peat moss and organic matter until the bed has reached 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 cm) high.

Water until the material is saturated. By spring, your heap will have decomposed into 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) of rich soil.

Sow your seeds or set in your plants, and mulch with compost, peat moss or dried grass clippings. As the plants grow, continue to mulch with the compost, peat moss or clippings. As the newspaper disintegrates and the organic matter decomposes, the layer of loose, rich soil will extend deeper into the ground (thanks to earthworms, bacteria and other soil-dwelling organisms).

Tips & Warnings

  • The key ingredient in the no-dig recipe is the bottom layer of newspaper. It draws earthworms, which decompose the soil.
  • Avoid tilling your beds, especially if you have clay soil. Tilling can actually damage soil structure and, if done repeatedly, can cause hardpan to form.
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