How to Prepare Garden Soil for Spring Planting

Article written by P. Allen Smith

Probably one of the most understated yet thrilling sights in a garden is a plot of freshly worked up soil ready for planting. Oh the possibilities!

Seeing rich, workable soil makes me giddy because it is the foundation for a great garden. When you get the soil right, the plant roots are happy and when the plant roots are happy, the plants are happy. Good soil is friable, meaning that it crumbles easily, which allows air and water to trickle down to the roots, facilitating growth. In turn robust roots increase the water and nutrient intake necessary for healthy and productive plants.

Very few of us are blessed with a ready-to-plant garden. Rather, we are cursed with too much clay or too much sand. With either scenario the solution is the same - humus. Humus in the form of compost and aged manure will break up heavy clay. On the other hand, if your soil is sandy, humus aids water retention plus delivers a dose of organic nutrients. Dig these amendments into your soil before planting and you'll set yourself up for a bountiful garden.

Now before you picture yourself toiling the day away with a shovel and pick, keep in mind that the right tools make all the difference. In fact, employing the help of a tiller or cultivator can be quite enjoyable and self-satisfying as you transform bare ground into a flower bed or vegetable garden.

A tiller is an especially useful tool if you are creating new bed space in unbroken ground. To begin, first loosen the earth about 12 inches deep with your tiller. Once the ground has been prepped, layer on 3 inches of compost and 3 inches of well-rotted manure and then grab your tiller and work the amendments into the soil. At the farm we use the Bronco CRT Garden Tiller. It's small and lightweight, but sturdy. The counter rotating tines make it easy to operate and provide greater control.

If you are revitalizing a raised bed, use equal parts compost and manure plus fresh soil as needed. For new raised beds, combine 1 part compost, 1 part manure and 2 parts soil. A cultivator will make quick work of mixing everything together. A cultivator is the 'lite' version of a tiller. They are great for working in established planting areas. I really like the GC720 TrimmerPlus® Add-On Cultivator. It attaches to the end of my string trimmer and the adjustable width (5 to 9 inches) is perfect for small spaces where a tiller won't fit. I use it all growing season to side dress vegetables, add compost and even weed.


The Dirt from Troy-Bilt®, March/April 2014