improve soil

How to Improve Soil for any Garden Type

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Each season garden soil will need to be refilled with nutrients after the season’s depletion of in ground, raised beds or container gardens. The process of improving soil is not as complicated as most think. Follow the tips mentioned below and you will be on the path to a productive season!

So there you are outside in the sunshine and finally starting your spring garden after the winter months that never seemed to end, only to find that your soil is not up to par…again.

Between last season’s crop depleting the soil of the precious nutrients, the season can feel off to a rough start before even getting started!

Well if you have ever found yourself in this situation don’t get discouraged because there are some methods to replenish soil without breaking the bank. While it sounds kind of silly, the best way to improve soil is with manure from grass fed animals, compost or fertilizer. 

If you haven’t taken the plunge into gardening here are a few reasons to start a container garden, without feeling overwhelmed or like space is a valid reason to avoid the subject.

Related: Ready to start seed shopping? Visit my friends at SeedsNow. They are stocked and have flat rate shipping!

What’s the difference between manure, compost and fertilizer?

Manure and compost are similar in function to improve soil, while fertilizer fixes a specific problem for a short period. A good manure/compost will give the soil proper aeration by keeping the soil light, (a problematic symptom in clay or sandy soil) while fertilizer can help provide specific vitamins.

I think to think of fertilizer as your daily vitamins, compost as your veggies and manure as the protein and starch dietary portion. Soil will need a healthy balance of all three to provide optimal conditions for growing fruits and veggies.  

Let’s dive into a few sources on how to add nutrients to your garden soil that will keep you on budget.


Finding a source of manure can be as simple as store bought, farm fresh or home grown, as long as you know what to look for. Not all manure is created equal, in fact if not allowed time to cure some manures will burn your plants! (more on this below).

The basic just is manure is the best thing for to improve soil so shop sales (spring black Friday) or invest in some backyard chickens.

Those who live within city limits may have to get more creative with sourcing ideas. If calling around to local farms doesn’t sound appealing, just try to opt for options in the garden center like Black Cow. 

Sources: cows, chickens, rabbits, ducks, goats

Some manures are considered “hot” and can actually burn plants from the high nitrogen levels.

For example, chicken manure is considered very hot and requires a six to eight week cure time before adding to soil where plants are growing. A good time to add the chicken coop contents would be after fall harvest or early spring before planting begins.

Cow manure however only requires a two-week downtime before adding to soil. Take care when adding to soil as a top dressing though (where 2 inches is added for a quick food release) as this can be hard on developing root systems.

Aged manure for purchase at the garden center has had the proper time to decompose so direct dressing is perfectly fine. 


Compost is the process of breaking down nutrient dense, but otherwise deemed waste, into usable product. This is achieved from a mixture of brown and green compostable materials.

What all is considered a compostable material? 

Let me feel you in. This compost magic happens when a ⅔ brown to ⅓ green is cooked for a 12 week or more period.

compost ideas to improve soil

The process of composting requires quite a bit of time moisture and rotation of material. This material invites organisms such as worms to come in and break down material. intern brown and green sources are broken down and turned into a lovely compost AKA soil addition.

Brown sources: cardboard, paper, cereal boxes, pine needles or leaves

Green sources: grass clippings, weeds that have not gone to seed, old plants, banana peels, potato peels, coffee grinds, manure of grass fed animals

**Avoid fatty or acidic kitchen scraps as these can prohibit the decomposition process. 

Remember compost is a way to invite organisms to break down material in a natural way. Acidic or greasy scraps bring in animals or smells that are less pleasing and can be somewhat damaging to this process. 

Bonus: compost is a great way to top dress vegetables, especially raised beds, to provide a layer of nutrients without disturbing the developing roots. This process can also be a great way to mulch as compost is known for keeping moisture retained and protecting roots that have surfaced from the hot sun.

Want to start your own compost? Try this compost bin for easy turning and filling when repurposing your garden and kitchen waste into a garden essential!


Up down and all around. Ever notice on the box and bags of fertilizer there is a three number pattern? For example 10 – 10 – 10 or on the box of miracle-grow usually 3 digits can be found in the corner. These numbers are the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

The best way to remember what these names and number represent is by the up, down and all around chant.

Nitrogen is responsible for the growth of the leaves, or the upper part of the plant that is seen. Phosphorus is responsible for a good strong root system under the ground portion of the plant. Potassium is responsible for overall general health or the all around. 

Special climates and soil exception

So clay or sandy soils will prove to be especially challenging and require an extra layer of love when preparing your garden soil. While manure and compost are still the best options you may need to add a few other things to get the best out of your harvest. 

When to add soil enrichments

Giving your garden some extra love is always a good habit. Anytime a plant is added or a patch of seeds, add an inch or two of compost or aged manure. This will give the stunned roots the boost of good to spread out and produce strong root systems.

Let nature lend a hand and after the final harvest start tossing the brown and green compost ingredients right into the garden, nature will take care of the rest!

The same can be done with hot manures, making a fall chicken coop mucking a double win. Just remember to stop adding 12 weeks before the average last frost date to allow proper breakdown time.

Not sure when your last frost date is? Learn how to find that and your garden zone so you can get the best out of your labor using the Farmers Almanac!

When in doubt- use compost

Garden soil can improved with manure, compost or fertilizer, but a healthy balance of the three is always good practice. When in doubt use compost for the quick, nutrient dense snack to keep plants growing strong. 

If you are interested in starting a compost bin I would highly recommend this bin. The black plastic makes it heat easier, which “cooks” the material faster. When it’s time to collect the bottom openings make it so easy to scoop out.

**This post may contain affiliate links where I earn a commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.**

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