How to Amend Garden Soil

Tips for turning less than ideal soil into a planting-rich medium.
Amending Poor Soil With Lime, Ash, Manure and Sulfur

Amending Poor Soil With Lime, Ash, Manure and Sulfur

Adding lime, poultry manure, or wood ash to your soil can make it more alkaline and raise the pH to a healthier level. Elemental sulfur can help make soil more acidic.

Photo by: richsouthwales / Shutterstock.com

richsouthwales / Shutterstock.com

Once you’ve tested your soil, you may have some work in front of you to get it ready for planting. Depending on what’s wrong with your soil, amending – a fancy word for “fixing” -  can be an easy fix…or a pretty complicated one. Here are some common soil problems and their solutions:

Problem: Soil is too acidic.  The lower the pH level, the higher the acidity. While certain plants require a more acidic soil, most do best between 5.8 and 6.5 pH.

Solution:  Adding lime, poultry manure, or wood ash to your soil can make it more alkaline and raise the pH to a healthier level. If you’ve already got plants in the ground, add a little at a time – 5-10 pounds of lime per 100 square feet of soil – and wait at least three months to re-apply, to avoid shocking the plants.

Problem: Soil is too alkaline. Again, all plants prefer slightly different pH levels, but if your soil is above 6.5 pH, it’s likely too high.

Solution: Elemental sulfur is a popular choice for adding acid to soil, since it’s safe for plants and relatively inexpensive. However, it is slow-acting. Iron sulfate is a bit more expensive, but faster. Many gardeners swear by coffee grounds as an inexpensive, safe and readily-available way to lower pH levels.

Problem: Soil is lacking in essential nutrients. Nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are vital for healthy plants.

Solution: Add organic matter or inorganic fertilizer. Organic matter can include anything from compost to bone meal to lawn clippings, depending on your specific needs. Inorganic fertilizer is inexpensive and works quickly, but instead of actually amending the soil, it simply feeds existing plants, and can damage soil over the long haul.

Problem: Soil is too sandy or too dense. Remember that clay soils can have a hard time draining, while sandy soils often don’t effectively deliver nutrition to plants.

Solution: Adding peat moss is an inexpensive and effective way to loosen up clay soil, while compost can build up and enrich sandy soil.

Now that you know the basics for amending soil, it’s a good idea to read up on your specific issue in more detail. Over-amending soil can do more harm than good, as can using the wrong amendment.

And if it turns out your soil is going to be very difficult, expensive or time-consuming to amend, don’t lose heart! Remember that container gardening and raised beds are both gardening options that may make your life easier – and your good-soil dreams come true.

Keep Reading

Next Up

Growing Veggies? Check Soil’s Drainage and Composition

Whether your veggie garden will be a bounty or a bust depends in large part on the quality of its soil. Learn how to check your soil in this HGTV feature.

Analyzing Garden Soil Quality and Sun Exposure

The quality of your garden's soil and its exposure to sunlight are just two of the factors that will influence the best spot for planting.

How to Feed Your Soil

Just like plants, your soil needs special care and attention to thrive. These tips can help you get the most out of your dirt.

How to Improve Clay Soil

Here are some tips for making clay soil more manageable and easier to work.

Growing Veggies? Test for Nutrients, pH Levels, Toxins

Getting ready to plant your vegetable garden? You'll want to test your vegetable garden soil for nutrients, soil pH levels and the presence of toxins.

Can I Reuse Old Potting Soil?

Gayla Trail shares what she's learned about reusing potting soil.

Making a Stink: How To Keep Skunks Out of Your Garden

Learn how to get ride of skunks while protecting yourself from their best defense.

Soil Solarization How-To

Try this chemical-free method of controlling weeds and pests.

Using Coffee Grounds in the Garden

Learn how to give your plants a pick-me-up using leftover grounds from your morning brew.

How to Fertilize Your Lawn

Lawn fertilizers consist of nitrogen, phosphate, potassium and other nutrients. Of these, nitrogen is the most important for healthy growth.

On TV

Tiny Luxury

6:30am | 5:30c

Flea Market Flip

8:30am | 7:30c

Flea Market Flip

9:30am | 8:30c

Flea Market Flip

10:30am | 9:30c
11:30am | 10:30c

Fixer Upper

12pm | 11c

Fixer Upper

1pm | 12c

Fixer Upper

2pm | 1c

Fixer Upper

3pm | 2c

Fixer Upper

4pm | 3c

Fixer Upper

5pm | 4c

Fixer Upper

6pm | 5c

Fixer Upper

7pm | 6c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Fixer Upper

8pm | 7c

House Hunters

9:30pm | 8:30c

House Hunters

10pm | 9c

Fixer Upper

11pm | 10c

House Hunters

12am | 11c

House Hunters

12:30am | 11:30c

House Hunters

1am | 12c

Fixer Upper

2am | 1c

Fixer Upper

3am | 2c

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.