If you have less-than-ideal garden soil – and most of us do – there's good news. You can improve most soils with a few simple techniques. Your efforts will be rewarded with healthier, more productive plants.
Add organic matter regularly. Organic matter improves drainage in heavy soils, builds water-holding capacity in sandy soils and provides food for beneficial soil life. Compost, which is well-decomposed organic matter, is an ideal soil amendment.
Minimize tilling. A freshly tilled garden seems like the perfect start to a healthy garden. However, tilling wreaks havoc on soil life and damages soil structure. An occasional light tilling is sometimes necessary on an overgrown garden, but avoid repeated tilling.
Monitor soil pH. Test your soil's pH every few years. Most plants prefer a soil pH between 6.5 and 6.8, with some notable exceptions, such as blueberries, which prefer more acidic soil. Learn how to adjust soil pH.
Cover bare soil. Apply a layer of straw, leaves, bark mulch or grass clippings over bare soil to prevent erosion. As a bonus, it will also conserve moisture, cut down on weed growth and add organic matter as it decays.
Avoid compacting soil. Compacted soil is harder to dig and weed and is less permeable to water. It has fewer spaces for air, which both roots and soil life need to thrive. Avoid walking in beds and don't work in wet soil, which tends to compact it.