Preparing Garden Soil

The key to any successful gardening is good soil preparation. Inadequate attention to preparation at the outset is difficult to remedy once the plant has put down its roots and become established.

First of all, it is extremely important to clear the soil of perennial weeds. If only one piece of many of these remains, it will soon re-grow and, if the roots become entwined in those of the climber, could become impossible to eradicate. Once the planting area is completely cleared, however, it is not such a difficult task to remove weed seedlings and keep the bed and the plants clear from then on.

Digging is important, too, as it breaks up the soil, allowing moisture and air to enter, both being vital to the well-being of the plant. The process also allows the gardener to keep an eye out for any soil pests. Dig the soil some time before you intend to plant thebe; digging in autumn and planting in early spring, after checking for any emerging weeds, is ideal.

As you dig the soil, incorporate well-rotted organic material. Not only does it provide food for the plants but it also helps to improve the structure of the soil. The fibrous material helps to breakdown the soil to a crumbly consistency, which allows free drainage of excess water and, at the same time, acts as a reservoir to hold sufficient water for the plants without water-logging them.

The final breaking down of the soil with a rake is more for aesthetic appeal than usefulness; the planting area will look more attractive if it has a smooth finish than if it is left rough.

If possible, prepare an area of at least1-1.2 m/3-4 ft in diameter, so that the roots can spread out into good soil as they grow.

Soil conditioners

Most gardens have patches where, for whatever reason, there is less moisture than elsewhere. If you improve the soil and select plants that are able to thrive in dry conditions, however, this need not be a problem.

Chipped or composted bark has little nutritional value, but makes a good mulch when spread on the surface, by reducing water evaporation and discouraging weeds. It will break down in time. Farmyard manure is rich in nutrients but often contains weed seed; it is a good conditioner. Garden compost (soil mix) is also very good as a conditioner and has good nutrient value. Leaf mould, made from composted leaves, also has good nutritional value and is an excellent conditioner and mulch. Peat is not very suitable as it breaks down too quickly and has little nutritional value.

Tending The Soil

1. Using a chemical spray is the only way to be sure of completely eradicating perennial weeds. Use a non-persistent herbicide, which breaks down when it comes into contact with the soil. It is vital always to follow the instructions on the pack exactly, not only for the obvious safety reasons but also to ensure you use the correct dose to kill all the weeds in the area first time.

2. If the turf to be removed does not include perennial weeds, or the soil is friable enough for the weed’s roots to be removed by hand, it is safer to remove the turf by slicing it off with a spade. Stack the turf in a heap, grass-side down, and use them as compost (soil mix)when they have broken down.

3. Dig over the soil ‘and, as you dig, remove any weed roots and large stones. Double dig, if the subsoil needs to be broken up. Add as much well-rotted organic material as you can to the soil before it is planted, in order to improve its condition.

4. Add the compost (Soil mix) or manure to the soil as you dig, or spread it over the top after all weed roots have been removed, and fork it in.

5. If you dig in the autumn, leave the soil for the winter weather to break down; at any other time, break the soil down by hand into a reasonably fine tilth. Use a rake or hoe to break down the larger lumps of soil, until the bed has an even appearance