Good Soil Means Good Vegetables

Build your soil by working it over time.

Rich soil takes time to build, so be patient.

Vegetables need good soil. If the soil is hard, rocky, soggy, or nutrient-poor, the vegetables will be, too. In rich, soft soil, roots grow deeply and soak up nutrients for healthy, productive plants. Here is how to prepare the spot where your veggies will grow.

Clear the area. Remove grass, rocks, or other debris. To dig up grass, use a spade to cut the sod into small squares and pry from the planting area with the end of the spade. Or, you can kill it with glyphosate and till it up.

Loosen the soil. Work the soil to a depth at least 8 inches (12 is better) with a power tiller or garden fork.

Improve the soil. Work a minimum of 2 to 3 inches of compost or soil conditioner into the soil with a tiller or fork. This helps drainage, the ability to hold nutrients, and promotes beneficial micro–organism activity. This is also a good time to add lime or sulfur to adjust pH as recommended by a soil test. If you don’t have time to send off a soil sample for testing, use a purchased kit, or take your chances that the pH is okay and test it later.

Use a steel garden rake to rake the soil smooth and level before planting.

In just depressingly hard soil, consider building a raised bed by piling good soil on top of the ground. The deeper the better. Or, grow in containers.

Your soil will improve with each season as you add lots of compost and organic matter. In time it will look like what gardeners call black gold–a rich, dark, organic soil that holds moisture and nutrients yet drains well.

Understand that the soil is alive with microscopic and visible creatures that contribute to the well being of your plants. Read the sections on Soil and Soil Building and Composting in the Learn & Grow Library for more details about building good soil. Also read the article about the soil food web in the Soil and Soil Building section of the Learn & Grow Library.


T. Kyle

I built and planted a raised 4×8 garden. I used garden soil and topped it off with two inches of compost which I mixed in about 4 inches deep. I planted many items and covered the soil with a cocoa shell mulch. I laid a 25ft soaker hose as well. Then it got really cold and I think everything got too cold even though I covered it with a big plastic tarp for a week at night. The soil is really moist under the mulch, and I water it about an inch a week…some days have been really hot and it gets 7-8 hours of sun. But now it is like everything has stopped growing, leaves are turning yellow and looks like they are over watered or under watered, can’t figure it out.
I planted cabbage, collards, kale, bok choy, romaine and spinach, bibb lettuce, chinese cabbage, carrots, beets, cilantro arugula and even one Better Bush tomato plant. Please help.

Mary Beth

Hi, Sounds like a great start for a beautiful cool season garden. Everything except for the tomato can take a chill, some even down to freezing weather. This article explains the lows these veggies can withstand before needing a cover. Also, plastic is not ideal for covering your vegetables. It needs to be breathable material. It’s possible that poor air circulation and overwatering is what has stressed your plants. Read this post on what to use and how to cover your garden in the extreme cold. I’m not sure what the weather is where you are, but you also want to be careful to not leave them covered without good circulation when the sunny days warm up in 50s or higher. You might also find this explanation on making a row cover hoop house helpful, as you can create it easily over a 4×8 bed. If the days are now hot again, remove any covering you have, let the soil dry slightly (not dry out, just back to normal, and remove any diseased or dying foliage. Let me know what you think after reading these articles and if this is helpful. I do think that if it’s not terribly freezing cold where you are, you have plants that can withstand (and even taste better after sweetening with frost) cold temps, except for the lettuces and tomato. A hoop house row cover will be easy for you to install and give you extra protection, too. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants


I have ants that leave eggs under the leafs and the flowers of my pepper plants. This causes the flowers to come of and not produce peppers.


I accidently bought the wrong bag of soil. It is for in the ground instead of container soil. It is so big and heavy, am wondering if I can use it or mix something in with it rather then struggle with this heavy bag and returning it?

Mary Beth

Hi Sandy,
We recommend that you use soil explicitly labelled for “potting” soil in container gardening. Garden soil, as you have read here, does not have the ideal mixture for dense planting such as that. However, we also understand the need to use what resources you have. You could use it in your flower beds or raised beds and add organic leaf matter or compost to it. If you must use it in your containers, perhaps mix in a 70/30 ratio of compost, mushroom compost or a new bag of potting soil to the garden soil. Make sure to fertilize well in your containers if you do use this mixture, and assure good drainage. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Vicki Fotheringham

I use egg shells to control slugs and snails in my garden and around the perimeter of the yard. I wash them out after breaking them, let them dry and break them up, then scatter them around the yard, gardening area, and especially near my grow boxes. It seems to do a very good job. I found slugs in my planter boxes, then put down shells and went the entire season without any more slugs or snails.



Kelly Smith

Hi Linda,

I just got this answer from our Ask an Expert service:

There are a few ways to deal with snails and slugs. You can place cardboard squares around the garden or flower bed. Slugs and snails will collect under the sections because they are attracted to the moisture. The cardboard can then be discarded helping to reduce the populations.

Beer is also used as a slug/snail attractant. Bury a small, shallow dish until the top is even with the ground. Pour a couple of ounces of beer into the dish. The slugs and snails crawl in and drown. This will have to be emptied and refilled daily.

The best control for slugs and snails is to use the slug and snail pellets (baits). This product can be found in most garden centers. This product must be reapplied after a rain. Follow all label directions carefully and notice that some are not approved for use in the vegetable garden.

Hope this helps!
Kelly, Bonnie Plants


The soil I bought had the snails in it. I even used miracle grow potting soil.


Have used bonnie plants for years, but it would help out if the price of plants were lower. Thanks


confused on what should be used when planting in containers, should i use potting soil or potting mix?

Mary Beth

Hi Tash,
You are right; it is confusing. The terminology for labeling is not standardized. It used to primarily be known as potting “soil” and now we see potting “mix” more commonly. What you what to be sure of is that the potting mix or potting soil you use is for containers (and referenced on the label) if you are planting in pots or containers. You want to use GARDEN soil or planting mix to amend the soil in the ground or raised beds. It does pay off to purchase a quality soil; it is worth it! Does that help? ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

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