What Should I Know About Tilling Soil in the Fall?

Healthy soil is a necessity for any garden, but at times can be a challenge to attain. Whether it's an issue with the soil's pH levels or lack of organic matter, not having the proper soil structure can impact how well (or not) your plants grow. Whatever the case may be, there are ways you can address and correct these issues before the next growing season officially arrives ' starting with tilling soil.


Tilling is a great way to amend soil, replenishing it with nutrients that plants can use as a source of food and energy for growth and strength. It can also prevent weeds from developing strong roots and spreading throughout your garden during the fall and winter.

But before you take the tiller out to give your soil a makeover, you should first evaluate its condition and investigate the cause behind certain problems your plants experienced during the past season. By pinpointing those issues, you can best determine what your soil needs.

Here are some fall tilling tips to ensure you're creating a suitable environment for plants to thrive in.

  • Test soil - Conducting a soil test can provide insights on what ingredients your soil lacks or has in excess. This will help you identify what you specifically need to mix into the soil while tilling - like organic matter, nitrogen or phosphorous. For the best results, you can either purchase an at-home soil testing kit or take a soil sample to a professional lab for examination.
  • Use compost - If your soil needs organic matter and nutrients, then tilling in compost is the solution. This is one of the most natural ways to create rich, fertile soil. Simply take materials from your compost, place them into your garden bed and work them into the ground with your tiller. Don't forget to keep saving your compost through the winter; you can use it when you begin to plant in the spring.
  • Don't over-till - There is such a thing as tilling your garden too much. This can contribute to soil losing nutrients and disturbing soil structure - the opposite effects from the purpose of using a tiller. For these reasons, it's best to till your garden only once or twice each year; in the spring and in the fall.
  • Till dry soil - Fall is known for occasional rain showers, so it's important to monitor the moisture of the ground before you start tilling. Tilling saturated soil can create clumps of dirt - making it difficult to maneuver the tiller - which leads to soil compaction and adding stress to the equipment. To prevent this, only till when the ground is completely dry.