Healthy, loose soil is the basis for a smart garden or lawn. 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. Visit homesoiltest.msu.edu for more information about MSU’s soil testing services for gardeners.
- Get your Home Lawn and Garden Soil test self-mailer today. The process is simple.
- See our tip sheet on MSU soil testing: Don’t guess - soil test.
- See this article with step-by-step instructions on soil sampling: Soil testing instructions…
- View Smart Gardening 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.
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.
When preparing a new garden bed, remove all weeds, sod, trash and rocks. Lay clear plastic down on the soil for a few weeks before planting to help kill weeds.
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 plant growth
- How to reduce phosphorus in soils
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. You can create your own compost in your yard or home using food scraps and landscape debris.
- Composting: A smart gardening practice to recycle garden and yard waste by Rebecca Krans, MSUE
- Composting at Home – The Green and Brown Alternative by Cornell Waste Management Institute
- Composting at Home by the US EPA
Layer 2-3 Inches of Mulch in Your Garden
Natural mulches such as wood chips can prevent weeds, conserve water and moderate soil temperatures.