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.
February 25, 2015 | Dixie Sandborn | April 22, 2015, marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, a day to promote awareness about air and water pollution in your community.
January 15, 2015 | Rebecca Krans | A healthy soil is vital for a successful vegetable garden.
December 12, 2014 | Terry Gibb | Vermicomposting is a good way to compost during winter months when your outdoor compost pile is dormant.
December 5, 2014 | Ron Goldy | How much fertilizer should I apply? Some take the approach that if a little of something is good – more is better. This is rarely a good approach, particularly with fertilizer applications.
November 11, 2014 | Matt Grieshop | You may have experience with two and four footed livestock but how about livestock with six or no legs?
October 29, 2014 | Beth Clawson | Garbage to Garden is now a two-part webinar that focuses on composting strategies for community gardens, school gardens, urban farms and food establishments that want to close the sustainable loop through preserving their natural resources.
October 23, 2014 | Terry Gibb | Mulching leaves into your lawn is a good way to add nutrients, reduce yard waste and save time and money.
October 2, 2014 | Beth Clawson | Burning leaves and yard waste is a major cause of wildfires and contributes to air and water pollution. Composting is your best alternative for managing leaves, yard waste and food waste.
September 29, 2014 | Hal Hudson | Tips for understanding and building a healthier soil in your vegetable or flower garden this fall.
September 29, 2014 | Hal Hudson | Fall is an excellent time to amend vegetable garden soils by adding organic matter or cover crops to help alleviate soil compaction issues during the growing season.
Find an Expert
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
Mar 1, 2018 – Jun 7, 2018 | Verkuilen Building, Assembly Rooms A&B 28115 Dunham Rd., Suite 12, Clinton Twp, MI 48036
Mar 8, 2018 – Jun 14, 2018 | Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Center; 6686 S Center Hwy, Traverse City, MI 49684
Mar 10, 2018 – Jun 30, 2018 | Charles R. Drew Transition Center, 9600 Wyoming St., Detroit, MI 48204