University of Illinois Extension
Soil Preparation - Gardening with Annuals - University of Illinois Extension

Soil Preparation

No matter how good the plant’s quality is, you will not achieve the success you are looking for without well prepared soil.

soil sample in hand

When preparing the planting area, it is important to work soils that are of the proper moisture content.  Working soil that is too wet will result in damage to the soil structure.  The result will be soils that become very hard, poorly drained, poorly aerated, and not allow even the best transplants to thrive.  Before tilling or working the soil, run a simple test to determine if the moisture content is right.  Take some soil into your hand and squeeze it into a ball.  Touch the ball. If it crumbles easily the soil is ready to be worked.  If it remains in a tight ball, it is too wet and you should not work it until it dries out further. 

All garden soils benefit from the incorporation of organic matter to help improve soil tilth, texture, aeration and drainage.  Organic materials include things such as peat, compost, leaves, dry grass clippings and well-rotted manure.  Organic amendments can be added in the spring or fall or both prior to tilling.  Putting on about a three to four inch layer and working it into the top 6-8 inches of soil is suggested.   Doing this annually will result in garden soils that can support excellent plant growth.

The area should also be fertilized initially with about 1-2 pounds of general purpose fertilizer per 100 square feet of garden area.  Fertilizers with analysis such as 5-10-5, 10-10-10, 12-12-12 or similar is suggested.  After thoroughly working all of the material into the bed, rake the area level, and you are ready to plant.