Beginners SectionImproving Your Soil

Ten Ways to Improve your Soil

garden soil types

Soil is the foundation of any vegetable garden, if it is treated well it will reward you. Year by year soil needs to conditioned and improved to accommodate the demands of cultivation and the weather. Here are some supplements that will boost the health of your garden.

Improve your soil with cow manureManure. Farmyard manure from cattle, chickens, sheep or horses, with a high nutrient and trace element content, is ideal for improving and conditioning the soil. It will help the structure of the soil, boost the nutrient content and then continue to release nutrients slowly into the bed over the growing season. Only well rotted manure, that has been left to break down for six months to reduce the excessively high nitrogen content, should be used directly on the soil.

Garden Compost. A readily available resource that requires little effort to produce. Kitchen and garden waste are allowed to decompose naturally with the aid of micro-organisms to form a light, friable material to nourish the soil. Ideally, a well balanced compost with a mixture of carbon and nitrogen based materials will contain all the essential nutrients for replenishing a vegetable bed.

Seaweed in frostSeaweed. Seaweed has traditionally been used as a soil improver in coastal regions because of its high nutrient content and easy availability. It contains significant quantities of nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium; all the essentials for healthy plant growth. The fresh seaweed can be added like manure or placed on the bed as mulch. It is also available as an extract in liquid or powdered form.

Leaf Mould. Made from fallen leaves, this organic matter is a useful component for conditioning soil. Leaves are collected in autumn, formed into a sheltered heap in the garden, or stored in sealed plastic bags and left to rot for up to two years. The crumbly mixture is relatively low in nutrients but can be mixed with compost for seed-sowing. The best leaf varieties to use are oak, beech, alder and hornbeam.

Growing vegetables with mushroom compostMushroom Compost. Due to its high content of organic matter, the left over material from mushroom farming is used as a mulch and to maintain soil composition. It has an alkaline pH, unsuitable for acid loving plants but ideal for brassicas.

Blood, Fish and Bone. This organic, general purpose slow-release fertilizer is a healthy addition to your garden, promoting strong plant growth. The plant will take up the nourishment as and when it is required, preventing overfeeding or leaf ‘burn’.

Bark. Normally a waste product from the timber industry, wood bark is ideal for mulch or for clay soils needing improved aeration and drainage. It has little nutrients but a high carbon content that may be beneficial in balancing excess nitrogen in the soil.

Grit or Sand. Heavy, clay soils will often need ample addition of aggregates to improve drainage and release their naturally high nutrient content. Be careful when adding sand to a clay soil however, less than 50% sand will actually make matters worse!

Ericaceous Compost. This soil conditioner is lime-free making it suitably acidic for blueberries, azaleas, camelias and rhododendrons.

Improve your soil with green manureGreen Manure. These plants are generally sown in the bed after the main crop has been harvested with their roots maintaining soil structure and foliage acting as a weed barrier. The plant is dug into the bed while still green, returning valuable nutrients to the soil. Mustard, alfalfa and some clover varieties are commonly used this way.


  1. Lucille Grosvenor

    These are some very good solutions on soil preparation and improving. I’m almost done with the seed starters at home and my husband ‘s now working outside in the garden. Here are some good tips we can use and I’m definitely showing him this post. Thank you for sharing all this helpful information!

    1. Andrew

      Hi Lucille
      I am delighted you found our post on improving your soil useful, it really is the most important part of your garden and the one that needs the most attention. I hope you both enjoy the growing season ahead and reap a bountiful harvest. Happy growing!

  2. Kevin Quinn

    Hi Andrew,
    I grow in a polytunnel and most things are coming to an end now. Were you suggesting in your post that now (Autumn) is a good time to add compost to the soil in readiness for the Spring? I generally waited until late February but would find it very useful to empty my compost bins now so that I can start composting again.
    Thank you in advance and for your very useful and informative articles.

    1. Andrew

      Hi Kevin. If you are growing in a polytunnel then I would definitely feed the soil at this time of year. Make sure you don’t let the soil dry out over the Winter by giving the occasional light watering. Material added now will have a chance to further rot down and worked into the soil and because you are under cover you will have no issues with nutrients washing through from heavy rain.

  3. May

    Hi Andrew

    Reading your article on improving the soil was very informative. I have used your Envirogrind for my early potatoes, I used 5 bags of your Envirogrind for 11 bags to start, will need more when the potatoes peep up. Can i grow I grow shallots in the onion growgrid i received from you. I seen a way of planting small seeds with the light cardboard and a pencil, I have done it with lettuce and found it a great way of doing this. Will be great for carrot seed. Thank you.

    1. Andrew

      Hi May. Nice to hear from you, I am delighted you found our article useful. Yes, you can use the growgrid for planting shallots, if you are using the onion one with a spacing of 15cm between the holes plant the shallots in every second hole giving a spacing of 30cm each way. Each set or bulb will produce 6-8 shallots so give the soil a good feed with Envirogrind beforehand. Let me know if we can be of any more help. Andrew

  4. Joan

    Your article is clear and informative.
    However I am concerned about your comment: ‘Be careful when adding sand to a clay soil however, less than 50% sand will actually make matters worse!’
    I have a heavy clay soil and I add mix of river sand and grit plus some leaf mould and garden compost when planting – the proportions depend upon how compact the soil is and what I’m planting. But I have never found I’ve needed to make the sand element 50% and the soil is always much improved.
    I’m leading a garden group on this topic so I don’t want to mislead others.

    1. Andrew

      Adding sand to clay soil acts to compensate for the physical nature of clay particles as well as to a develop a manageable soil structure and drainage. The relative surface area of sand is half that of clay and needs to be balanced to allow efficient drainage.

      There is an interesting article on the matter here from the RHS. https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=620


  5. Wellington Simoko

    thank you very much for your article,may you please send me some of your articles im my email inbox,All l can say z ua cool!

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