How to Prepare Garden Beds

Spring is finally here! You’ve been thinking about your landscape plans throughout the winter, eager to once again get your hands dirty with soil. Whether you’re getting your green thumb ready for edible crops or beautiful flowers, you must first take time to make the soil amenable to planting.

To establish hearty, durable plants, gardeners can focus on three main areas: addressing soil composition, cultivating and adding nutrients.

Soil Composition

If you’re like most gardeners and grow a variety of plants in your garden, you’ll want to take an inventory of the soil type and then make necessary modifications so the types of vegetables, herbs, shrubs, or flowers that will be planted can grow in strong. The most important step to developing good roots is preparing the soil.

Take a sample of the soil and examine it to see what is present. If the soil is too full of clay, too sandy, too dense, or too loose, that can lead to problems where plants cannot grow in strong. Work with your local garden center to add the right soil amendments to make rich soil. This may include organic compost or manure, which will also add nutrients. It’s a fact that good fertile soil is full of red worms. It’s also known that poor soil has no worms. Adding worms to poor soil, eliminating chemical use and giving the little guys/gals some food and water can quickly turn poor soil into the very best topsoil. The worms make burrows and tunnels that let water and nutrients reach plants root systems. Red Worms are best at this for gardens because they work close to the surface. Whereas, nightcrawlers may go down five feet or more to find a home. This burrowing loosens the soil and aerates it.


Cultivating the soil can involve different steps. Removal of weeds, errant rocks, roots, and other items will help prepare the soil. Work on garden soil when the soil is damp but never wet; otherwise, garden soil can become messy and clumpy. Use a digging fork or shovel to lightly turn the soil when it’s mostly dry. Gentle tilling also can open up the soil to incorporate the nutritional amendments and relieve compaction that likely occurred from freezing temps and snow pressure. Tilling also helps with drainage and oxygen delivery to roots. Turn over the soil at a depth of 12 inches to work the soil — about the length of a shovel spade. However, established garden beds (filled with worms!) have a complex soil ecosystem and simply top-dressing with compost or manure can be enough preparation for planting.


Testing the pH and the levels of certain nutrients in the soil, namely nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, will give gardeners an idea of other soil additions that may be needed. Soils with a pH below 6.2 often can benefit from the addition of lime several weeks before planting. Soil tests will determine just how much fertilizer to add to the soil. Complete fertilizers will have equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Individual fertilizers can amend the soil with only these nutritional elements that are needed. 

Top-dressing empty beds with a layer of mulch or compost can prevent weed growth and preserve moisture until it is time to plant. If existing shrubs or plants are in garden beds, use more care so as not to disturb roots or dig too deeply.