Green Patch: Preparing Soil

Learn how to prepare planting soil for the first time.

| February/March 2001

  • Photography by Anybody Goes

Question: Now that I have a plan for my first herb garden, how do I prepare the soil? 

Answer: In the last issue, we talked about some basic things to think about during the winter months as you plan out your garden. You’ve determined the size and shape you want, decided what you hope to achieve, and prioritized your needs. You’ve also figured out the best sun exposure. You’ve spent months perusing plant catalogs and making lists, you’ve checked out the local nurseries, and you know what USDA plant hardiness zone you’re in. Right? Now let’s get to work.

Keep your eye on the weather. You want to get started working the soil as early in the season as possible, as soon as the ground thaws.

First, mark off the boundaries of the garden. One easy way to do this is with your hoses, laying them out on the ground around the edges of what will be your garden; then you can look at it from all angles and change your mind easily. If the edge of your garden is a straight line, that’s easy, but if you want a curvy shape, then play with it a bit. Remember that a long, sinuous curve will be more attractive than a too-curvy edge, which can look fussy.

What’s in that space now? Is it lawn or other landscaping, or is it bare earth (lucky you!), or is it overgrown with weeds? Unless there are plants you want to save, you’ll be removing everything so that you end up with the equivalent of a blank canvas, then digging deep. How do you do this? Sweat and muscle.

(If you want some chemical help, use the most environmentally friendly herbicide you can find. A glyphosate, such as Round-Up, kills everything it touches, but leaves no chemical residue in the soil. Such a herbicide will take a week or two to work, and it won’t eliminate the need to dig. I prefer to just dig and weed.)

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