Feel of sandy soil

A guide to soil preparation

Prior to planting, a proper soil preparation is what can make a difference between thriving and surviving your chosen plants. In simple words, soil preparation is digging or forking over the soil in areas dedicated to new plant inhabitants.


Most plants do well in well-prepared loamy and aerated soil. Sure, you might have heard terms as clay-loving or sand-loving plants. But for now, let’s think of them as clay or sand tolerating, ok? No plant likes to be exposed to the extreme conditions, and thorough soil preparation can greatly help.


What you will need?

In most cases a spade or a garden fork is sufficient. But if you need to prepare a large area, a rotavator might be needed. Don’t worry if you haven’t got one, most people don’t. Luckily it is easy to hire one from your local hire shop. Rotavating is not an easy task and if in doubt, contact a professional.


What are the benefits of soil preparation?

  • Nutritional release
  • Improvement of water penetration
  • Aeration
  • Easier planting
  • Avoidance of costly replacement


When to prepare the soil for planting?

Most of you will agree that the best time to turn the soil over is autumn or early winter. Simply put, if you fork the soil over this time a year, the winter weather conditions will do loads of work for you. Rain, snow and frost are the elements contributing to a breakdown of soil clumps. But let’s face it, this is the approach to be considered if you plan on doing some planting in the spring and mostly applies to a vegetable patch. But if your goal is to plant a few shrubs or perennials, feel free to prepare the soil prior to planting anytime. Remember that certain soil types behave differently.


In this article we will take a closer look at different soil types and benefits of their preparations. Let’s begin.


Soil types include


  • Clay
  • Loam
  • Sand


Clay soil

Clayey soil can be easily recognised just by a glance. The light brown or yellow colour is unmistakable.


Contrary to popular common belief, clay soil retains nutrients very well, but unfortunately it retains moisture too. The problem often is that the nutrients are becoming unavailable due to poor soil texture.


By aerating the clay soil, you can achieve two goals in one.


First, air entering the soil provides oxygen for macrobacteria and worms living in the soil and allows them to thrive. The macro bacteria and worms are responsible for the soil breakdown which in return will result in release of nutrients necessary for healthy plant and root development that were previously unavailable.


Second, clay soil aeration improves water penetration. Tiny particles of clay only allow us to accommodate microscopic air pockets that fill with water rapidly. By aerating the clay, the air pockets will be enlarged, allowing for a larger amount of water to freely drain.


To improve the texture of clay, incorporate well-rotted manure and fork in well. Farmyard manures are rich in the presence of macrobacteria needed to break the clay soil down. When this happens, the texture of clay will drastically change. You can also include a horticultural grit to improve drainage further.

Example of clay soil
Example of clay soil


When determining your soil type, loam is the best outcome your garden can hope for. Loan is usually brown and becomes darker brown when more humus is present. 


When preparing the loam soil for planting, simply turn it over with a fork and break up any upcoming clumps with a fork or rake. They are normally falling apart very easily and the finer the texture you can achieve, the better. This will help you in the future planting. The smaller soil parts will fill the area around the plant root ball more efficiently, eliminating the massive air gaps. 


When preparing loam soil, no additional material incorporation is necessary. Allowing the air into a compacted soil helps in releasing all the important nutrition needed.

Example of loam
Example of loam

Sandy soil

Sandy soil has a grey colour in the appearance and the grains of sand can be clearly visible. It also breaks up very easily when digging. In fact, the soil often disappears through the prongs during forking.  


This soil type almost never or rarely retains any nutrition or moisture. During hot summer days sand tends to overheat, literally boiling the roots of an unappropriated plant material. Remember what we said earlier? Even if you were advised that the selected plants are sand loving, let’s think of them as sand tolerant, meaning, your sandy soil will need twigging upon preparation. 


When preparing sandy soil for planting, simple forking over will not suffice. Incorporate well-rotted farmyard manure to restore nutrition, and where possible, include topsoil as well to improve texture required for water retention.

Feel of sandy soil
Feel of sandy soil

As you can see, the soil preparation is a first crucial step to your successful plant growing and should not be taken lightly. It will make your plants thriving and will avoid a costly replacement in the future.

Looking for garden help and inspiration?

Get in touch today to arrange your personalised consultation.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *