What Lies Beneath
Once you have finished your landscape design and located plant sources, it’s time to do bed preparation for the big installation day. First, get a soil test and follow the testing agency’s instructions and recommendations. Beautiful plants will not grow well in bad soil. Then till in the recommended organic matter and fertilizers and lime and mycorrhizal mixes to a depth that will open the soil to water percolation and absorption. Soil needs to breathe and have access to moisture to provide a growing ground for healthy landscape plants. Plants typically like reliably moist, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. The northern prairies have this kind of soil naturally, but the rest of us must amend the existing soil with nutrients, grit, lime, fertilizer, and compost.
Tilling creates a fluffy texture and access to air. Ideally, you should break up the soil at least eighteen inches deep. In the heavy clay of the south, you must do what you can. I have broken several tillers attempting to break up old cotton field soil! Tractors with ripping attachments are needed for densely-compacted areas before tilling can begin. In the old days, green-thumb gardeners would double dig the plant beds to pamper their new plants. Mechanical tillers do that job for us today.
Adding well-rotted compost to plant beds adds a magic fairy dust that improves the soil in amazing ways. It invites earthworms to come and play. It holds moisture. It really is wonderful stuff! Add as much as you can afford.