Is your garden soil ready? |

Is your garden soil ready?

JoAnne Skelly
Special to the Appeal

I moved two rose bushes last week and was pleasantly surprised at how workable the soil was. I realized that it is about time to start adding organic matter to garden soil in time for spring vegetable planting.

Organic matter is garden gold, important to building a loose easy-to-dig soil. It also feeds soil microorganisms, holds moisture, keeps weeds down, and loosens clay. It helps a soil hold and release nutrients. It really is the key to garden success.

To tell if your soil has enough organic matter, dig into it and look for some barely recognizable stuff such as leaves, stems, etc. You should be able to recognize a bit of old plant matter, but not see whole broccoli stems or large root clumps. If you don’t see any organic matter in the soil and you hope to grow a vegetable or flower garden there, you will definitely need to add some.

Since I’m planning to plant peas around St. Patrick’s Day, I need to work in a 2- to 3-inch layer of compost now. If you will be waiting to plant for another six weeks or more, one way to build up the soil is to dig compostable food scraps (nonanimal products), coffee grounds, leaves and grass clippings directly into a 12-inch deep trench in the soil right next to where you will be putting in seeds or plants. Then sprinkle the entire mix with a tiny bit of ammonium sulfate and bury all of it. These materials will break down over the next few months, adding to the nutrients in the soil. Then two to three weeks before planting, dig in a 2- to 3-inch layer of additional compost to where the seeds and plants will go.

Do not dig or till soggy soils. This can cause the formation of big clods that are difficult to break apart when the soil is dry. In addition, walking around on soggy soil compacts it, making it hard for roots and water to move through. A soil ready for digging or tilling will just barely hold together when squeezed in a ball in your hand.

I prefer hand digging to tilling, because I can dig deeper than a tiller can go. I turn my vegetable garden to a 9- to 10- inch depth. Good gardens result from good soil preparation. Get ready for tomatoes!

For information, e-mail or call me at 887-2252. You can “Ask a Master Gardener” by e-mailing or call your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at

• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.