The importance of thorough soil preparation cannot be stressed too much – it is the key to creating a successful garden…
The ultimate success of your garden depends just as much on soil preparation as it does on the correct choice of plants for your soil type and the conditions.
For plants to grow in height and bushiness above the ground, they require loose soil for their roots to grow below the ground. Plants won’t grow if their roots can’t grow.
Quite simply, shoot growth is proportional to root growth, and root growth is proportional to the amount of loose conditioned soil available. Therefore it is important to dig up and thoroughly loosen and condition the soil before planting. The more loose soil you provide the better growth you will get.
Unfortunately, digging up the ground is hard work, but the old adage “results are proportional to effort” applies as much to gardening as to every other aspect of life. Lazy gardeners usually have terrible gardens!
If you’re still building your house, decide where you want your gardens to go, and when the bobcat comes in to clean up the yard just before the builders leave, get him to dig up the beds for you. It will take him no time at all, so it will cost you very little. You don’t have to plant straight away – the soil will stay nice and loose as long as you don’t walk or drive all over it. Just cover it with mulch or compost to stop the weeds growing and becoming unsightly.
If you have a small garden, roll up your sleeves, take a deep breath, and get to work with a rotary hoe, pick, shovel and bare hands to physically break up the soil. You haven’t finished until your original hard lumpy ground is nice and soft and friable. Yes, the effort is worth it – you will be repaid a thousand times over by the fast, vigorous growth of your plants.
Dry ground is hard to dig, so it pays to water the area over a period of a couple of days to soften it up and make your task a bit easier. If you’re not in a hurry, cover the area with thick organic mulch for several months before digging. As the mulch breaks down it conditions the soil beneath and makes it much softer to dig.
If you have a very clay based soil there are a couple of points you will have to remember .
• If working during summer, water the dry clay first so you can work it.
• If it is a very clay soil you may have to add gypsum to break the clay up.
• Add plenty of compost as this will help break the clay up and also add valuable hummus to the soil.
• Consider the soil drainage, as clay soils can become very wet during winter causing plants to die.
Light sandy soils may require little or no preparation but they will need an extra layer of compost or organic matter worked in.
• When preparing light sandy soil add a thick layer of compost or organic matter on top, around 200mm, and fork or rotary hoe this in. The organic matter will help improve the soil and improve water retention.
• Mulch light soils heavily as this will help the overall structure and improve water retention.
• If the light soil is initially very dry you may need to consider using a water penetrant to help get moisture into the soil, as very dry soils can become hydaphopic i.e. almost waterproof.
If you own acreage, hire a bulldozer or tractor with rippers to rip up your garden beds. It’s not expensive – for a hundred of dollars a machine will dig up an area which would take you weeks to prepare by hand and the resulting plant growth will be spectacular to say the least.
• Don’t plant your plants in hard unprepared ground.
• Don’t use a post-hole-digger to plant your plants.
• Don’t leave grass growing around your plants.
• Don’t use a rotary hoe unless you’ve dug up the ground first.
• Don’t rip steep creek banks and risk creating an erosion nightmare.
• Don’t turn the soil upside down – keep the topsoil on top and subsoil underneath.
• Plants won’t grow if their roots can’t grow.
• The more loose soil you provide the better growth you will get.
• Kill all the grass in your garden beds and around your plants. Grass severely inhibits the growth of plants.