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.
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.
- See our tip sheet on how to soil test: Don’t guess - soil test.
- View video on soil testing
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
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.
June 5, 2012 | Dorothy Munn | Gardening presents a wealth of opportunities for youth to apply the science and math knowledge they have gained during the school year.
May 17, 2012 | Rebecca Finneran | New fact sheet will help gardeners understand the dynamic of soil pH and what they can do about it.
May 7, 2012 | Beth Clawson | A backyard compost bin provides an organic, humus-like product that can enhance your soil by increasing organic matter and adding beneficial organisms to create a balanced soil ecosystem.
April 30, 2012 | Bindu Bhakta | Michigan State University (MSU) Extension home lawn and garden soil test mailer and soil test website give home gardeners the tools they need to grow healthy plants, protect the environment and save money.
April 10, 2012 | Elaine M. Bush | Michigan residents are urged to exercise caution when burning outdoors and to make sure that when and what they are burning complies with state laws and local ordinances.
March 20, 2012 | Beth Clawson | Top five plant problems that indicate the need for a soil test
February 3, 2012 | Bert Cregg | Questions remain about residual soil activity and recovery of trees affected by new herbicide.
February 3, 2012 | Terry Gibb and Bindu Bhakta | Amendments to the Law prohibit fertilizer use and includes best management practices for water quality.
February 3, 2012 | Terry Gibb | Simple practices such as grasscycling can help protect local water resources.
November 17, 2011 | Erin Lizotte | New legislation prohibits the use of phosphorus fertilizers on residential or commercial lawns, beginning January 1, 2012.
Find an Expert
Dec 13, 2017 | Ubly Heights CC, 2409 Atwater Rd, Ubly, MI 48475
Dec 14, 2017 | Saginaw Valley Research & Education Ctr. 3775 S. Reese Rd., Frankenmuth, MI 48734
Dec 15, 2017 | Westpark Inn, 440 West Sanilac Rd., Sandusky, MI 48471
Dec 19, 2017 | Lapeer Co. Education Technology Center, 690 Lake Pleasant Rd., Attica, MI 48412
Jan 18, 2018 – Apr 26, 2018 | Bay College West, 2801 U.S. 2, Iron Mountain, MI 4801
Jan 24, 2018 – May 2, 2018 | Washtenaw Western Service Building, MSU Extension, 705 N. Zeeb Rd., Ann Arbor, MI 48103
Jan 24, 2018 – May 2, 2018 | Kalamazoo RESA - Wile Auditorium 1819 E. Milham Ave Portage, MI 490