The Q&A Archives: Preparing Soil for a New Garden

Question: We are moving into a new place - the front of our condo has very poor, mostly clay type soil and it faces the East. The former owner let the garden grow in weeds which we have removed. What is the best way to prepare a garden for a major growth for next year? We will plant some things this year but in the fall we would like to plant some bulbs and other flowers so that all during the growing season next year we will have something blooming. Thanks! Richard Indianapolis, IN

Answer: If you could wait until next spring to plant, I would recommend planting a cover crop such as annual rye and tilling it in next spring to build up the organic matter in your soil. If you are like most of us and can't resist planting some flowers this year, start building up the soil by incorporating organic matter, such as compost, manure, leaf mold or peat moss. Compost is a good choice because it usually contains no weed seeds. Manure should be well-rotted if you are planting right away. You can incorporate fresher manure in areas where you won't be planting till next year. Leaf mold, or well-decomposed leaves, is another good amendment. All of these have the advantage of being easily renewable resources, as opposed to peat moss, which is mined from peat bogs that take many years to develop. Check the pH of your soil with a soil test after incorporating the organic matter. If your soil is too acid, apply lime; if it's too alkaline, mix in a sulfur-containing amendment. Check with your local garden center for these products and follow the package directions.

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