15 Hacks to Improve Your Garden Soil for Free

Ralph Astley is a retired gardener from Philadelphia who specializes in outdoor plants and trees. With years of hands-on experience, Ralph not only cares for a diverse range of outdoor flora but also shares his extensive knowledge through well-written articles and social media posts. A trusted authority in arboriculture, he's committed to helping the community grow healthier, more robust gardens.
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These 15 Hacks to Improve Your Soil for Free will guide you to create the most powerful and rich soil for your plants.

 Hacks to Improve Your Garden Soil for Free

A rich and quality growing medium can make gardening easy, productive, and fun, and these Hacks to Improve Your Soil for Free will teach you how to achieve that without spending much on chemical fertilizers and soil conditioners.

Check out some brilliant gardening hacks here

Checking the Condition of Soil

Checking the Condition of Soil

Before you think of improving your soil, test it for what it has. Mostly, a basic test checks for Phosphorous, Nitrogen, Potassium, and pH. Thankfully, there are handy ways available in the market for cheap that you can try at home. You can also get in touch with the local office or soil lab to get detailed results.

The most basic test anyone can do to understand the texture is the squeeze test. For this, take a handful of moist garden soil and squeeze it to make a ball, and open your hand. If it holds the shape until you do a light poke, it means it is loamy, which is great!

1. Check and Control Soil pH

Check and Control Soil pH

Soil pH tells you how alkaline, acidic, or neutral your garden soil is. Different plants require different pH levels to grow to their fullest potential. For instance, the best range for potatoes is 6 to 6.5, while the ideal pH for lavender is 6.5 to 8.

To do the soil pH test at home, click here

What to Do if the Soil is Too Acidic?

Too acidic soil means the pH level is below 7. If you need to raise the pH value, you can use any product that contains lime to enhance the soil for growing requirements.

Mix a tablespoon of baking soda into a gallon of water and use it to lower the soil acidity naturally.

What to Do if the Soil is Too Alkaline?

Too alkaline soil is when the pH value is above 7. Add peat moss to your soil to amend it for your plants that love acidic soil. Add 2-4 inches to the top layer of the soil and mix it well.

You can also mix half a cup of vinegar in a gallon of water into the soil, which can help you lower the soil’s pH level and raise its acidity level naturally.

Want to make your soil acidic or alkaline at home? Here are more ways

2. Check the Temperature of Soil Before Planting

Check the Temperature of Soil Before Planting

Knowing the soil’s temperature before planting is essential to prevent diseases or growth problems. While the air might feel quite warm to you, the soil could still be cold from winter. You can use a normal thermometer that can read temperatures instantly.

Apart from these two, you can also perform:

  • Earthworm Test: Dig out the soil and look for earthworms. If you find 4-10 of them, the growing medium is very healthy.

Before you scroll below, discover more soil tests you should do here

How to Improve Your Soil for Free

3. Aged Manure

Microbial activity in the growing medium is essential for acquiring, cycling, and releasing nutrients, ensuring that the plants get the correct dose of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus.

Adding manure to the soil is the best way to boost the microbial biomass while providing organic carbon and nutrients, which significantly helps to stimulate the microbial activity, resulting in better growth and diversity of microbes in the soil.

Manure from farm animals such as goats, cows, alpacas, sheep, rabbits, chickens, and horses is the best way to improve your soil. Add it to the garden beds at least once during the growing season to enhance the soil and provide the nutrients steadily.

4. Green Manure

How to Improve Your Soil for Free

Green manure plants can be grown as living mulch in the yard as they form a dense mat by increasing among each other, thereby saving the plants from soil splash and erosion.

You can also go for green leaf manuring, which is a term given to the process of using leaves and twigs of trees and other plants. It helps in the reclamation of alkaline soils and keeps the growth of root-knot nematodes in check.

Vetch and peas are some of the great green manure plants. You can also grow grasses like annual ryegrass, oats, rapeseed, winter wheat, and winter rye.

Nitrogen fixation by legumes is a partnership between a bacterium and a plant. In legumes, bacteria live in small growths on the roots called nodules. In these nodules, nitrogen fixation is done, and the upcoming plant absorbs the NH3 produced. You also have an option to grow Nitrogen-fixing plants like peanuts, cowpeas, soybeans, and fava beans.

5. Spent Hay or Straw

Spent Hay or Straw

Straw is a by-product derived from dried stalks of cereal plants like barley, rice, oats, and rye. Hay, on the other hand, is a dried grass that includes seed heads, leaf blades, and stalks.

They both are an excellent choice to top-dress the growing medium as it makes the soil rich in organic matter. This also helps suppress weeds, and as it decomposes quickly, this allows the plant to get a steady supply of nutrients.

Mulching with this will also help the soil to insulate the soil and trap moisture in summers, which is really helpful if you live in a warm climate.

Both straw and hay are great in creating a microclimate as they make for an organic blanket, which protects it from sun and wind.

6. Chopped Grass

Chopped Grass

Do not allow cut grass from the lawn to go to waste because it is packed with minerals and provides food to beneficial microbes and earthworms. The leaves help break down heavier clayey soil and retain moisture in lighter loamy soil.

Chopped grass is also a great source of carbon and gives a solid boost to your compost for free.

7. Wood Chips

Wood Chips

You can also use wood chips as mulch for your garden beds. You can also mix that in the growing medium to increase the porosity and water retention capability of the soil. You can find wood chips for free via tree services or the green recycling facilities in your locality.

Check out some Surprising Uses of Pistachio Shells in the Garden here

8. Kitchen Scraps

Kitchen Scraps

The kitchen could be a gold mine as banana peels, eggshells, tea leaves, vegetables, and other fruit scraps can add nutrients to your soil for free.

You can also throw some banana or pomegranate scraps into the planting hole at the time of planting or spread some of that on top of the soil in your garden and allow them to decompose naturally.

Learn How to Make DIY Fertilizer from Kitchen Scraps here

9. Coffee Grounds

Coffee Grounds

When you mix the spent coffee grounds into the soil or let them compost, it improves the soil structure and also helps to repel some bugs. The grounds are already high in nitrogen and are excellent for plants that are heavy feeders in the garden.

You can add the coffee grounds to leaf mold and make an excellent nutritious mulch for your garden, absolutely free.

Learn some Amazing Coffee Uses in the Garden here

10. Wood Ash

Wood Ash

Wood ash has sufficient calcium, potassium, and many micronutrients from the trees from which the wood comes.

Wood ash helps better the pH level of your garden soil and can make it a bit more alkaline. So, you must not use it on very acid-loving plants like blueberries or azaleas. This miraculous powder can also protect plants against slugs, snails, aphids, and mealybugs.

Here’s how you can use wood ash in the garden

11. Worm Castings

Worm Castings

Worm casting or vermicompost is the extract left from a worm’s body. It contains all the three important plant elements–nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and has a neutral pH. Using it can improve the soil texture while making it richer.

Learn How do Earthworms Help the Soil here

12. Leaf Mold

Leaf Mold

Also known as black gold, the leaf mold is composted leaves. However, it goes through a slow process but this really worth the process because it is an excellent soil additive. All you have to do is collect all the leaves in the garden and dampen them. Keep adding leaves, and it will be ready to use in 1-2 years. Here’s one tutorial video for help.

Once made, mix it thoroughly in your soil!

13. Covering the Soil in Winter

Covering the Soil in Winter

Cover the garden soil in winters or before the rain to save it from becoming compact and excessively moist. You can use old clothes or a plastic wrap for this purpose. If you have an open compost heap, don’t forget to cover that too. This will save your time in the next growing season, and you won’t have to break the soil.

14. Solarize the Soil

Solarize the Soil

Solarizing the soil is when you prepare the garden bed to grow plants of your choice by removing all the weeds and other unwanted plants.

This includes mowing the ground, watering it well, and covering the area with a plastic sheet. The weeds will grow, but the trapped heat of the plastic will destroy them in 6-8 weeks.

15. Urine

Urine in soil

As funny or weird as it sounds, human urine is sterile and one of the best sources to amend and fertilize your soil. Human urine is super rich in nitrogen and has potassium, phosphorous, and other trace nutrients.

It is best to avoid adding urine directly to your plants as it could be too concentrated for them. Dilute the same with an equal amount of water and use it in the growing medium.

Check out our article on human urine uses in the garden here

So, which of these soil hacks do you like? Are you going to try one of these? Please post in the comments!


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  1. I like hearing about the vinegar uses. I never knew vinegar could help in the garden and so many other areas around the house.


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