Healthy, loose soil is the basis for a smart garden or lawn. Watch our smart soils webinar or view the resources below to get started.
Build your soils
Smart soil is the key to healthy plants and a successful garden. If you have limited money or time, put your resources into improving your soil. This will make all other gardening tasks easy.
- How to achieve healthy soil
- Video on how to have healthy, smart soil
- Soil basics: types, texture and structure
Test your soil
A soil test is the best way to learn what the pH of your soil is and what fertilizer it needs. Do not add lime unless recommended by soil tests results. If you suspect your soil is contaminated from something that was there prior to your garden, test for contaminants before growing anything you eat.
- Get your Home Lawn and Garden Soil test self-mailer today. The process is simple.
- How to soil test: Don’t guess - soil test.
- Video on soil testing
Prepare your soil for planting
On a day that hasn’t had any rain, pick up a handful of soil and squeeze it. If the soil falls out in pieces, it is dry enough to dig. If it stays in a mud ball, it is too wet, so try again tomorrow.
Remove all weeds, sod, trash and rocks. If you have a lot of weeds, lay plastic down on the soil for a few weeks before you plant. That will kill the weeds without any harmful side-effects.
Apply compost, fertilizer and any soil amendments suggested by a soil test before tilling. Turn over or till your soil to a depth of 8-12 inches.
- Composting: A smart gardening practice to recycle garden and yard waste
- Applying fertilizers to enhance nutrient growth
- How to reduce phosphorus in soils
- Tips for improving your soil
Don’t compact your soil
Do not walk or operate heavy equipment over wet soil. Soils often remain cold, wet and heavy late into spring. Digging in those conditions further compacts the soil and creates a solid mass where new roots cannot grow. Consider gardening in a raised bed if your soil is heavy, compacted or contaminated.
Work compost into your garden soil every year
Adding compost is beneficial for almost all soils. Compost or decomposed organic matter makes soils alive and fertile. Compost must be added every year because your plants use up all the nutrients.
- Compost benefits and use
- Video on backyard compost tips
- Video on proper backyard composting
- Video on alternatives to large compost
Layer 2-3 inches of mulch in your garden
Natural mulches such as wood chips can prevent weeds, conserve water and moderate soil temperatures.
October 10, 2016 | Rebecca Krans | Soil testing, removing plant material and adding organic mulches, compost and cover crops are all smart gardening techniques for fall cleanup.
September 1, 2016 | Dixie Sandborn | Looking for an organic, small round, pelleted form of fertilizer? Consider using fresh rabbit manure.
August 29, 2016 | Terry McLean | A vermicomposting project on a Flint area women’s development farm has been established to help improve soil and plant health, and build community self-reliance.
August 12, 2016 | Lauren Scott | Expert Pete Scharf talks about the importance of nitrogen in preparation for MSU Agriculture Innovation Day.
July 26, 2016 | Terry Gibb | Changes to current solid waste laws have been proposed by a 13-member panel. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is asking for public comment on these changes by Aug. 1, 2016.
July 21, 2016 | Rebecca Krans | Register now for the Master Gardener Program in Escanaba, Michigan, starting Aug. 25, 2016. Online registration is required by Aug. 11, limited and partial scholarship application are required by July 29.
July 15, 2016 | Michelle Walk | Renowned Small Farm and Organic Expert, Eliot Coleman to Speak at Local Food Conference
July 12, 2016 | Beth Bishop | Two new Enviro-weather stations have been added in Oceana County in 2016.
July 8, 2016 | Paige Filice | While water gardens add beauty to backyards, it is important to be aware of the risks associated with aquatic invasive species and to prevent escape.
June 29, 2016 | Christina Curell | Simple steps to determine worm populations in your field covered at MSU Agriculture Innovation Day.