How to Prepare Soil For Planting Herbs and Vegetables

Herb and vegetable gardening isn’t just about placing the right seeds on your land. You also need the right gardening equipment, as well as preparing your soil for your plants to thrive. However, there’s more to preparing your soil and tilling it than most gardeners know!

From the best garden tiller down to testing out your soil’s pH level to know what seeds to plant, you need to learn all these things for a successful harvest. Don’t worry, this also surprised me a lot, since I used to think all plants could survive no matter the soil condition. This wasn’t the case as I did the research and experienced my plants DYING from poor soil preparation.

Whether you’re a beginner or expert gardener, it’s crucial to learn all about how you should prepare and till your soil. Furthermore, it’s important to also learn about WHY you need to prepare and till your soil, as well as the common mistakes made. This will help you understand more about what you should do to turn into a better gardener.

So if you’re still confused about how to prepare and till your soil when gardening, read on! I’ll be showing you how to prepare soil for planting herbs and vegetables properly.

How to Prepare Soil: Step by Step Procedure

Even if your area doesn’t have ideal soil for herbs and vegetables, your plants can thrive with the right preparation. So follow these proper steps to promote better soil health in the long run:

1. Test Your Soil Quality

Before anything else, you have to learn about what your soil quality is. You can do this by testing out your soil’s pH level, which should be balanced. It’s best that your soil pH levels should be about 7, which isn’t alkaline or acidic.

You can check your soil quality with a quality soil pH level testing kit. All you need to do is to take a small sample of your soil in the garden you’ll plant in. Afterward, place the soil in the pH testing kit and follow the directions (depending on the testing kit you purchase).

Soil testing kits are affordable and effective, though if you want more assurance, you can take your soil sample to a soil testing lab.

It’s important to learn the pH levels of your soil so you know if you need to make any adjustments.

2. Change Your Soil Structure

The next thing to follow is to notice what needs to be done with your soil based on its pH levels AND its environment. Your soil might have poor drainage or doesn’t retain as much moisture as needed. Because of this, I highly recommend that you change your soil’s structure and adjust it as needed.

You can add compost, coarse sand, and/or gypsum. Both gypsum and compost can help in nutrients, though it attracts worms, the natural aerators, as well as insects. However, these are beneficial since they can help break down soil minerals, which plants will easily absorb in the future.

Adding coarse sand or pea gravel will create space between any dirt bits, which gives more oxygen and area for water to pass. You’re also able to add more organic matter for nutrients, which I’ll explain in the next section.

3. Enrich Your Soil

You can enrich your soil with various types of compost AND peat moss before you plant it. To do this, follow these steps:

  • Dig down to your soil, up to about 18 inches. Keep shoveling and overturning dirt, breaking large clumps. This helps lighten your soil texture to make the compost work.
  • Look into the soil for any weeds you need to remove, another step to prepare your soil for planting.
  • Afterward, add your chosen organic compost and matter to your soil. Mix all that well using your how or shovel until it mixes completely with the soil

If ever your soil is too acidic, then it’s best that you add agricultural like or dolomite in it. However, I highly recommend that you only add the like or dolomite during early fall or spring.

This allows the lime to have some time to combine with the soil without any plants. Avoid planting right after adding the lime and make sure that you have the right application ratio according to your garden area. Do NOT apply too much lime, as it’s difficult to reverse, and mix it well.

Make sure that when adding the lime, you incorporate it thoroughly and ensure it’s combined completely. Now, it’s time for you to start planting your herbs and vegetables according to the directions (and type of plant you plan to put).

4. Fertilize Your Soil

This is another extremely important thing to do to give both your soil and plants nutrients it needs. Furthermore, it will help your soil and plants fight off all diseases and pests that harm the harvest.

I do like using organic fertilizers, but take note that these take longer to break down into your soil compared to inorganic ones. This is because when you use inorganic fertilizers, the nutrients are already inside it, which plants and soil immediately absorb.

You can choose the following types of organic fertilizers:

  • Various animal manure
  • Dried blood
  • Kelp
  • Bone or cottonseed meal

There are also different types of fertilizers to get based on its ratio of nitrogen, phosphate, and potash, necessary nutrients incorporated to the fertilizer already:

  • 20-20-20 fertilizer
  • 5-10-10 fertilizer
  • 15-0-15 fertilizer
  • 8-8-8 fertilizer

5. Mulch the Soil

This step is actually used AFTER planting your herbs and vegetable plants. It’s best that you add an organic mulch around all your plants and herbs. However, do NOT apply it on or inside the herbs, but just the area surrounding them.

When doing so, the mulch will then break down, supplying your plants and herbs with even more nutrients.

6. Do You Need a Raised Bed?

Even if you did your best in trying to increase your soil’s moisture, sometimes it still can’t drain enough. One of the most effective ways to remedy that is through raised beds. When you set up raised beds, it can help control and increase the moisture of your soil, which herbs will thrive in.

If you’re unsure of what raised bed gardening is, it’s a type of gardening where you from soil in beds that are about three to four feet in with. And obviously, it’s eased above ground enclosed with frames build with rock, concrete blocks, or wood.

Why We Have to Till Soil Before Planting

You’re probably wondering: Why do you need to prepare and till your soil in the first place? I know some gardeners don’t bother with it and claim it still works, but let me tell you: The results won’t be as good or long-lasting compared to taking the time to prepare and till your soil for planting.

With that said, here are the advantages of tilling and preparing your soil for the garden:

Helps Control Weeds

NO one likes having weeds around your garden, they just ruin the look AND your plant growth. That’s why tilling is very beneficial, especially when you do it early on before planting.

When you till your soil early, it chops up all the irritating weeds while young, preventing it from getting into your garden, soil, and future plants. When tilling in the fall, it reduces the number of perennial weeds, keeping your plants with energy as winter comes.

Lessens Risk of Pests

Another huge advantage of tilling is to get rid of any useless pests that dig into your roots. Sure, worms and some insects are beneficial, but the soil-born larvae and insects that eat your plants? Definitely NOT something you would want to see as you continue to plant your herbs and vegetables.

Through tilling with the best small rototiller, it can disrupt the larvae and insects which appear throughout the spring. That’s why it’s best to till early on in the spring to kill off the pests that grow throughout the winter season.

Aerates Your Soil

Did you know that tilling can help aerate soil excellently? Because it loosens up the soil, it has a better footing to all the newly-germinated roots. Besides this, it also adds the necessary oxygen, nutrients, and water to get to your plant’s roots even faster.

This is compared to having a no-till system, which can lead to excess runoff. This carries topsoil away, leaving your roots and plants parched!

With tilled soils from the best rotary tiller for tractor, it can provide pockets for better water secretion. However, it still allows any excess water to percolate through its soil, preventing drenched roots.

Best Tillers & Cultivators

Prepares Soil For Spring and/or Fall

When tilling in the fall, it adds organic matter to all the dying vegetable plants. Tilling helps compost in the soil, helping increase the nutrients and tilth. The grass clippings, leaf litter, and other organic matter from fall can really help with your soil’s composition, which comes as you till your soil.

Furthermore, tilling can help warm soil quickly, which is much needed during the spring. Tilling helps increase air inside the soil, stimulating aerobic bacteria activity to break down organic matter quickly. This results in faster plant development during the growing season.

Balances Out Your Soil

Regardless of what you want to plant (may it be flowers, herbs, fruits, or vegetables), you need the best soil balance to achieve their beautiful and successful growth. Through tilling and adding the right fertilizer and nutrients, it helps keep ALL your plants safe and growing into the big and attractive plants to harvest from. Good tilling creates a suitable growing environment for whatever you plant, so you have balanced, healthier soil.

Common Mistakes When Preparing Soil and Tilling

Besides learning the proper procedure on how to prepare soil for planting herbs and vegetables, you also need to learn about what you shouldn’t do! By learning the different common mistakes, it can help you prepare soil even better, avoiding the risk of ruining your soil quality. So take note of the following mistakes:

You Don’t Test Your Soil

One common mistake is that people begin to prepare their soil without actually seeing its current state. When gardeners don’t check their soil’s pH levels, it can stay TOO acidic or have too much alkaline, which prevents proper growth even if you add all the quality mulch, fertilizer, and organic matter. That’s why you need to invest in a good testing kit to know how to improve your soil.

You Don’t Have a Goal For Your Soil

Once you have the results of your soil pH levels, you had to create a goal for your soil. Does it need more lime, mulch, or will you need to use other special equipment to break through its individual issues? Without a goal, you won’t be able to properly prepare it for a good growing environment your plants need.

You Don’t Know How to Use Your Equipment

You can have the best rear tine rototiller but if you don’t know how to use it, you can’t prepare your soil or till properly. That’s why it’s crucial for you to understand the way all your gardening equipment works and when to use them.

Besides this, you also need to know how to properly clean and maintain all your equipment. That way, everything will last and will be put to good use in the garden as you prepare and till soil.

You Don’t Know About Fertilizer

Unfortunately, not many people are actually familiar with the fertilizer they need for their plants. The type of fertilizer you use all depends on two factors: Your soil and what plants you want to grow in your garden.

With that said, I highly recommend that you do your research on your soil quality to find the right balance of nutrients. That way, your soil won’t become TOO acidic or have too much alkalinity that affects how plants grow.

Frequently Asked Questions

Besides all the information mentioned above, these are frequently asked questions from our visitors and gardeners:

1. How Can I Know If Pesticides Were Used On My Soil?

If you don’t want to use pesticides, there are ways to see if your soil used ti beforehand. You can do this by learning about the garden soil’s history, asking where it came from and if pesticides were used. Was the area always a garden or was it for commercial agriculture before?

It’s also important to look into where the garden bed’s from. If it’s near commercial operations, there’s a chance that pesticides may have spread to the bed. While there’s no extremely effective procedure to decontaminate soil (besides time and removing the soil), some say activated charcoal or manure helps.

2. What Soil Should I Use For Gardening?

I highly recommend that you mix soils together, which can help your seeds thrive. It’s important to put compost for added nutrients and perlite or vermiculite, which holds moisture.

  • For growing vegetables from seeds, use three parts of seed starting mix, one part of organic compost, and one part of coir or vermiculite.
  • For growing vegetables in raised beds, you should have two parts of light topsoil and one part of organic compost or worm castings
  • When planting in a garden, you can improve the soil by adding dehydrated cow manure, leaf or mushroom compost, or natural humus

3. What Important Gardening Equipment Do I Need?

There are actually many different gardening equipment you can invest in, but you only need the most important ones. The tillers and other equipment you need depend on the way you garden. You’ll most likely need the following gardening tools:

  • The best front tine tiller is best for smaller areas (less than 1,000 sq. feet) and is one of the cheapest options
  • The best rear tine tiller is great for larger gardens and is much easier to control compared to the front tine
  • The best mini tiller is recommended if you have a smaller area to work on. It's easier to maneuver than the standard best garden tiller because of the tiller's smaller size

For more information on good soil preparation, check out this helpful video: 

Wrapping It Up

Before you begin planting your favorite herbs and vegetables, the first thing you should do is to prepare your soil. Through proper soil preparation, your herbs and vegetables will thrive and produce a quality harvest for your dinner table. It all starts with your overall soil health and the right equipment like the best garden tiller.

While it WILL take time and effort trying to choose good equipment and doing all the work, it WILL be worth all of what you spent in the long run. Just make sure you go through this guide and follow these steps properly.

I hope my article on how to prepare soil for planting herbs and vegetables properly helped you out! So don’t wait any longer and follow any of these tips now.

If you have any questions or want to share your own experiences in preparing and tilling soil, do comment below. Your thoughts are much appreciated.