How to Get the Best Garden Soil

Having a nutrient-dense, well-draining soil is key to a successful garden. While having great soil won’t guarantee that your plants thrive and your yields are large, poor soil can destroy the abundance you are seeking each harvest season. 

Soil is where plants feed on oxygen for the processes they need in order to grow and produce. While nutrient-density is important, the characteristics of the soil should get equal attention. Having loose, soft, well-draining soil will allow the roots to spread, grow, and reach water, nutrients, and oxygen. Additionally, if you have potatoes, carrots, beets, radishes, or other root vegetables, they will be able to grow beautifully and unobstructed by hard packed soil or rocks. 

Feed the Soil, Not the Plants

Knowing Your Soil

We are in zone 7a, so our soil tends to be like clay and very slow to drain. Other parts of the Mid-Atlantic region have very sandy soil. While many folks would recommend a soil test, that’s often an extra step that your background gardener isn’t going to make. Either way, you want your garden soil to be dark, loose, loamy, and have plenty of worms.

Whether your soil is super sandy or rock hard, adding organic matter is always a great option.

Adding Organic Matter

Compost and compost manure are the best options for making your garden soil a nutrient-power house. Adding some top soil to balance wouldn’t hurt either.

Remember, compost and compost manure are different.

If you have a compost bin, you’ll add things like:

  • Food scraps (no meat, dairy, stinky food leftovers – stick to veg and fruit scraps)
  • Leaves
  • Grass clippings
  • Egg shells
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Paper towels
  • Tea bags
  • Paper bags
  • Wood chips
  • Sawdust
  • Twigs
  • Coffee grounds

Compost manure is typically livestock poop and maybe some hay and shavings. We have an article that goes through what to look for when selecting compost manure and has some great tips – like making sure the compost manure is at least six months old, and other important things to know! 

Adding a mixture of both compost bin materials and compost manure is the best way to add nutrients to your soil. 

Top Soil

Bagged top soil is typically used for adding to garden beds as the bulk of your soil. You’ll want to mix top soil and composts together. The composts will provide nutrient density and the soil will add the bulk. 

Blood Meal and Plant Tone

Other organic, fertilizer-type options are blood meal, plant tones, and bonemeal. These are slow-release fertilizers made from animal products. You’ll want to use these to side dress your plants as they grow as your fertilizer. Sprinkle them around the base of your plants and mix them into the soil. There are different plant tones for different types of plants, which have different combinations of nutrients. Be sure you are selecting the type for vegetables.

Worm Castings

Worm castings are worm poop which is incredibly nutrient dense and will make your garden thrive. But, it can be expensive. I usually spread out one bag of worm castings for four garden beds. This gets a good bit of nutrients added without breaking the bank.


Putting the work in with getting your soil where it needs to be will pay off in dividends. Poor soil will bring on a whole slew of issues that are difficult to fix once you have plants in the ground.