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How to improve your soil


Digging and forking through the soil allows you to loosen any compaction, remove weeds and debris as well as providing the perfect opportunity to add the organic matter. Plants need good soil conditions if they are to give the best results. Improving the soil with plenty of organic matter in the form of compost helps drainage and aeration on heavy soils and conserves essential moisture on light ones.

How to do it


Dig the soil thoroughly, breaking up large clods or lumps to relieve compaction. It is best to use a spade for soil that has never been dug. Previously cultivated soil can be forked through to the depth of the tines.


Add home-made garden compost, bagged compost or well-rotted manure. As a rule, add a minimum 5cm layer of organic matter over the surface before digging or forking it in.


Dig over the soil deeply again to incorporate the organic matter, mixing it into the soil to the depth of the spade or fork tines.


Tread the area, using your heels to firm the soil. If necessary, break up large lumps of soil with the back of a fork. 


Rake the soil to remove stones and any rogue weed seedlings. This will also create an even layer for planting or sowing.

Our tip

Don't attempt to do all your digging and soil improvement in one go. It's easy to overdo it and strain muscles, even if you are physically fit. Most importantly, do some gentle warm up exercises before you start and stretches when you finish.

Discuss this project

Talkback: How to improve your soil
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BillinDetroit 24/11/2011 at 15:27

It's February in Detroit, MI USA and both my compost pile (three, actually) and my soil are still frozen. Nonetheless, it has been my habit to mulch heavily in the fall, dig this in as the weather warms and apply fresh compost (or other mulch, if I am short on compost) as soon as all the seeds have shown themselves. During the growing season, I try to keep a 2-4" layer of mulch at all times. To conserve water, I use a weep irrigation system (Tyvek tubing) and bury it beneath the mulch.

janicepownall 24/11/2011 at 15:27

I have recently uncovered the compost bin from 2007 - it is now ready to use and having read the article I must get out there this weekend and start revitalizing my raised beds before the sowing season begins.

de527eaacaf1f6992be0adbcfa69218a 24/11/2011 at 15:27

could also just leave the compost on the surface if applied in winter ,frosts and worms will break it up.

AndyWhite 24/11/2011 at 15:27

I get all my mulch from woodland horticultural, they've been really helpful in giving me advice as well. The website is

titaflan 24/11/2011 at 15:28

forgot to mention that walking on wet clay soil damages the soil structure. never work on wet soil! also, light soils get lighter if dug excessively (what caused the dust bowl of kentucky).

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