Gardening Advice

How to Prepare Soil for Planting Flowers, Vegetables & More

Alexander Raths /

The time has come for preparing soil for planting, but you’re wondering how to do it. There’s probably a good reason why last year’s zucchini didn’t turn out well. “This year will be better”, we hear you say, but the best way to make tomatoes and cucumbers happy is to take soil cultivation seriously.

Good garden soil will provide your plants with the necessary nutrients, water and air to ensure a bountiful harvest that can make even the grumpiest of gardeners smile. But what’s so special about soil cultivation? What manure is best for vegetable gardening? What about planting flowers? How do you prepare garden beds? Keep reading to find out how to prepare soil for planting the easy way!

Table of contents:

Main types of soil

Before preparing your soil for planting, you have to know what kind of soil you have. The three common soil types found in Australia are:

  • Sandy – you can tell your soil is sandy if it feels gritty to the touch. A wide-known fact about sandy soils is that they have excellent aeration because the particles that make them up are larger, with space in-between. However, aeration comes at a cost – sandy soils struggle to retain water and nutrients and have an acidic pH – a good way to kill most garden vegetables. Of course, there are more than a few ways to amend sandy soil.
  • Clay – the counterpart of sandy soil consists of large quantities of clay, making the soil very waterlogged during rainy periods – heaven for your roses, but a bit too moist for most vegetables. Clay soils are easier to work with as long as you keep their pH close to the neutral point, but if you let it become too acidic or alkaline, clay tends to become sticky and hard to cultivate.
  • Silt – this type of soil is considered “in-between” sand and clay – the size of the soil particles is larger than sand but smaller than clay, and in terms of water retention, silt can do it better than sand, but it gets harder to dry when it’s too wet. However, silt soil is often the preferred choice for vegetable gardens, especially with added organic matter, which can help adjust the soil’s water content to a higher or lower level.
  • Loam this soil type combines silt, sand, and clay in different proportions, making it a preferred choice for most plants because it combines the positive factors of each of the other three soil types. However, this type of soil is rare in Australia, but you can buy bags of loam soil tailored to your preference at most garden markets.
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Preparing soil for planting

Preparation of soil depends on the type of crop that you’re trying to grow. Vegetables and fruit generally thrive in well-nourished soil. Most flowers benefit from rich soil, as well. Perennials, roses and other shrubs, and most edible crops grow beautifully if the soil is nourishing enough. Also, moisture-loving trees, like Dogwood, Cypress and Willow, establish well in soils full of nutrients.

However, some plants don’t need the most fertile growing medium and grow better in lean soil, like succulents. Aloe, Crassula and Carpobrotus, for example, thrive best in dry climates and poor soils. 

Well, we will focus here, however, on providing you with a step-by-step guide to help you get ready for planting crops meant to grow in fertile soil.

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Pull weeds out

When you think about how to prepare your soil for planting, you have to consider a number of factors, such as soil depth, the soil type, its acidity level and of course, the sorts of plants you intend to grow, etc. This way, you’ll be able to decide on what organic soil improvers to add and mix in (mulch, leaf mould, compost, manure and so on). But before that, you need to remove any weeds that can hinder the establishment of your new plants. The only tools you need for weeding are:

  • Shovel
  • Rake
  • Pair of gloves

To prepare the soil in your new plant beds for planting, you’ll need to get rid of all the unwanted weeds. The job has to be done thoroughly, as every root you fail to pull out will come back eventually, and worse than that – it will spread. There are chemical ways to remove weeds, but the best approach is to pull weeds the old-fashioned way, especially if you’re weeding soon before planting. That way, you avoid any possible damage to your future plants caused by harmful chemicals. Simply put your gloves on and:

Pulling weeds out

Pick a corner to start and work your way towards the centre of the plant bed.


Grab every weed firmly and pull it gently out of the ground.


Pull weeds out with their roots intact to prevent them from growing in the future.


Snap a root by accident? No worries – use your shovel to dig it out.


Pull weeds until there isn’t a single one left.

Contrary to popular belief, hand-weeding is not as time-consuming and laborious as most people make it out to be. Depending on the size of the area, it shouldn’t take more than a few hours. 

You can also use mulch after planting to prevent weeds in the future and to further improve your plants’ health and garden aesthetics.

Cultivate and improve the soil

Now that you’ve finished weeding, it’s time to cultivate your soil and improve it by adding organic matter to enhance its properties, texture and structure. Whether it’s finished compost, manure or organic matter will improve your soil’s ability to retain water, add nutrients, and make digging more effortless because it can loosen larger clumps of clayey soil. The most common organic matter gardeners add to their soil includes:

  • Aged manure – it contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and other essential nutrients required for plant growth. When appropriately used, aged manure can act as a good fertiliser and minimise nutrient pollution to your soil’s water resource. You should aim to add 1-2kg per square meter.
  • Plant materials – including but not limited to leaf mould, grass clippings, straws, and wood casings. Plant materials add nutrients to your soil, but they also help create tiny pores and improve aeration. On top of that, organic matter in the form of plant materials can bind soil particles into aggregates, which improves your soil’s ability to hold water. You’ll need a layer of at least 7-8cm on top of your soil.
  • Compost – an excellent soil additive. The best thing about it is that compost can alter your soil’s structure and make it less likely to erode. It also helps with water retention and nutrient levels, as well as with aeration. To add to all that, compost reduces future disease spreading and balances out acidic and alkaline soil by bringing pH levels into the optimum range. A layer of 6-7cm before tilling should be more than enough for the average garden.

Either of these three options can work wonders for your garden. Choose the one that best fits your soil type and spread it around before proceeding with your soil preparation. 

Turn the soil over

Now that you’ve added organic matter to your soil, it’s time to mix it into the soil. Tilling helps loosen your soil, which allows vegetable and flower roots to grow deeper into the ground. 

Take your shovel and pick a corner to start digging. Turn each shovelful over entirely, and make sure you dig at least 20cm deep to ensure your plants have a lot of space. Then, use your rake to level the soil and get rid of any rocks, sticks, or other materials that might have turned over.

Turn your soil over when it’s slightly moist and not too wet.

Prepare soil beds

A soil bed allows water to drain from plant roots during high rainfall and allows more air to enter the soil. Another benefit of soil beds is that you can easily apply compost or mulch to the areas where your plant roots start. They’re also easier to water, which makes irrigation more time-efficient in the long run.

Although raised beds look nice when they’re all lined up straight, this isn’t necessary. As long as you keep at least 50-60cm of distance between your garden beds, you can build them in any direction you want to fit the shape of your land better. All you need to do to prepare a soil bed is:

Preparing garden beds

Use your shovel to dig two 10cm deep trenches about 20cm apart.


Stack the dug-up soil in a line between the trenches.


Mix in a thin layer of compost in your new raised bed.


Use your rack to even out the ground you’ve just dug up.


Repeat the process for as many beds as you need, but keep each raised bed at least 50-60cm away from its neighbours.

After you finish preparing your plant beds, you can go ahead and plant your seeds or seedlings. Remember to keep an eye for any weeds that might pop out and take them out immediately. 

Trench depth can vary depending on how much space the roots need. Planting trees or bushes requires digging deeper to make sure their roots go as deep as they can. Depending on the root, it can be anywhere between 50cm and 100cm.
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  • The best time to work your soil is when it’s slightly moist.
  • Pay close attention when weeding, and make sure to remove every single root.
  • Aim for at least 20cm depth when turning the soil over.
  • Do not hesitate to hire a gardener to help if you can’t spare the time for soil preparation.

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