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  • Writer's pictureMarie Katherine

5 Ways to Amend Poor Soil in the Garden

Updated: Sep 7

Why are soil conditions so important for gardeners?

Soil conditions are so important because the quality of soil determines the health of your plants!

When growing, people often only think of light and water. However, the soil is JUST as important! Soil provides nutrients for your plants, and if you’re growing vegetables, this determines nutrient density and taste, in addition to overall health.

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Poor soil conditions may be soil that is compacted, full of clay, sand, or rocks, or an imbalanced pH. Rocks, sand, and clay are easy to spot, however, if your garden receives plenty of light and water, and your plants are still unhealthy, I’d recommend a pH test to test the soil. Here is a good one that’s easy to use. Healthy soil is a rich dark brown color, light and easy to turn, and retains moisture.

Many gardeners use raised beds as a way to control the soil quality. See my post here for 2 ways to build cheap raised beds. However, if you want to save money, or just prefer to grow directly in the ground, you risk growing in very poor soil conditions. I have dug down into yards and discovered the richest, healthiest dark black soil I’ve ever seen! I’ve also dug down into dry, hard-packed dead soil, sandy soil, clay soil, and soil filled with rocks or roots! It’s truly a gamble! There are plenty of ways to amend poor soil, so you may have to take that route if your soil is poor.

How to amend Poor Soil:

1. Add compost.

You can buy or make your own compost. Making it is actually very easy, but does take time. However, if you’re going to be gardening in the same spot for years to come, I would highly recommend starting your own compost pile!

A compost pile is essentially 50% brown matter (cardboard, dry grass clipping, dry leaves) and 50% green matter (kitchen scraps, weeds, or anything else green). It’s best to turn your compost regularly and to keep it damp. However, if you’re like me and a bit of a lazy gardener, know that you can still produce rich healthy compost without turning your compost pile regularly. They do make rolling composters that make this really easy and produce garden-ready soil faster. Here is an excellent composter! Composting is an excellent way to keep unnecessary waste from the landfill AND produce your own healthy soil right at home!

2. Add fertilizer.

You can purchase fertilizer in your local nursery or hardware store, or here. I recommend organic if that’s an option. However, If you keep chickens (or have a neighbor with chickens), their manure is one of the BEST fertilizers out there! Most livestock manure works well, but you want to make sure it’s aged and not fresh. Fresh manure will burn your plants. When I clean out our chicken coop, I shovel the used bedding into the compost pile or directly into the garden beds in the wintertime when there are no vegetables planted.

3. Plant cover crops.

Cover crops are things like clover, radishes, and winter peas. Planting these crops in your garden helps restore nutrients to the soil. Once the crop is done, and it’s time to plant, simply till the plant back into the soil so it retains all the good nutrients.

4. Rotate plants every year.

Rotating your plants helps prevent one plant from leaching all the nutrients out of the soil. For example, cucumbers use up a different set of nutrients in the soil than tomatoes and ALSO each vegetable leaves behind a different set of nutrients. Rotating crops also helps prevent diseases.

In order to really get the benefits of rotating crops, it’s best to leave the root system behind when you clean out your summer garden in the fall. It’s always tempting to just pull the whole plant, roots, and all from the soil when weeding, but it’s best to take garden shears and cut the plant away right above the soil. Leaving the roots behind allows them to compost down over the winter months and replenish the soil with nutrients.

5. Add peat moss to your soil.

Peat moss can really help soil that is hard and compacted. Plants have an easier time growing in soil that is easily turned as the root systems grow well. You can buy peat moss at your local gardening or hardware store. If peat moss is not an option where you live, you can also add coconut coir.


Want to learn more about gardening? Visit my blog here to learn more! Here is my year-round gardening calendar to keep you on track in the garden throughout the whole year! And if you’re frugal, here are 4 tips to save money in the garden!

How have you amended your garden soil for growing? Let me know in the comments!

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