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Published March 20, 2010, 12:00 AM

Growing Green: Gardening From the Ground Up: Soils

This early spring thaw has left bare patches in my yard, exposing the dark black soil of my garden.

By: Robin Trott, Extension Educator , The Osakis Review

This early spring thaw has left bare patches in my yard, exposing the dark black soil of my garden. Dreams of an early spring planting fill my head, and I am so ready to get started. Before your enthusiasm gets the better of you, start planning ahead, and think about the first step you need to take: soil preparation.

You can begin to work in your garden once the soil has dried out a bit. Grab a fistful of dirt in your hand and compress it. If it stays in a tight mud-ball, stay out of the garden, the soil is too wet to work. If the ball begins to crumble when you open your hand, the soil is just right.

You might want to start your gardening year with a soil test. Soils contain the nutrients and minerals necessary for your plants to grow. Over time, these essential elements can become imbalanced or depleted. A soil test will give you the information you need to determine how much and what kind of fertilizer needs to be added to your garden. If you are interested in having your soil tested, or just want to know more about the types of testing available, visit for a complete soil management publication. You can also pick up soil testing information at the University of Minnesota Extension-Douglas County located at 720 Fillmore St. Suite B090, Alexandria MN.

If you are not interested in having your soil tested this year, there are some things you can do to improve the health and fertility of your soil. Adding compost to your garden is always a great start. Compost contains organic material which increases soil nitrogen, lightens heavy clay soils, and increases water retention in sandy soils. If you don’t have access to compost, bags of peat moss and composted manure can also be used to improve your soil. (Always use composted manure. Raw manure will burn plant roots and damage and weaken plant material.) To add amendments to a new garden, dig a 1 foot deep trench and mix removed soil with compost/manure. Loosen the soil at the bottom of the trench with a garden fork and fill with soil/compost. Continue until you have completed this procedure through your entire garden. For existing beds, top dress with compost, and mix into the soil with a hoe, roto-tiller or garden claw. Make sure not to disrupt the root systems of existing plants.

Once your soil bed has been prepared, you are ready to plant. Your garden, rich in essential nutrients and minerals, will give plants a great start!

Until Next Time, Happy Gardening!