Lisa's Landscape & Design

Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time

Working the soil…It’s that time again!

Vegetable beds prepared with my favorite soil mixture. Vegetable /Herb beds prepared with my favorite soil mixture.

It is that time again, time to get outside to begin preparing the soil for the new season or the new year. I mentioned previously that I am not big on amending but lets face it there is only so much a plant can do without nutrients, so we’ve got to give it a little help.

Poor soil quality, Lisa’s landscape, Austin

Being a Master Gardener I would say it would be improper for me not to suggest that you begin with a soil test. I have a hard time saying that because it would then imply that you would be amending your soil according to their findings and that contradicts what I just said… however, if you’re struggling with even native or recommended plants and trees, you really should get one. If you’ve never done one, it’s simple as can be, you dig a little hole about 4-6” deep and put the soil you find at the bottom in a baggy. Do this in a few spots in your yard or just maybe one in the lawn and one in your beds and mark the baggies so you remember what hole they came from. Some places will test several samples, others only one. You can get a soil sample done by A&M or other mail in testing sites by simply mailing them your soil at a cost from about $20- $35.00 and they will send you a handy little sheet telling you where you are nutritionally deficient and how to fix it. There are also local nurseries who do it and sometimes for free.

Before and loads of compost After 

Before…orange sandy loam from the builders,

After…abundantly composted soil is now filled with food and flower. 

Rather you begin with a pile of compost or the soil test path, you need to commit to avoiding chemicals unless absolutely necessary. Avoid chemical fertilizers in your yard by always opting for compost, and natural fertilizers like “Liquid Seaweed“, Molasses or organic feeds as chemicals are destructive in the garden and require continued use that creates a vicious cycle. Mother Nature didn’t need them before us, and the effects of decades of abuse and misinformation are showing on our planet.

Now, lets talk about dirt. I have clay soil with limestone, some have rock, some have sandy soil and some of you lucky ducks have Black Land prairie soil if you’re East of IH35.  For those like myself who have a horrible excuse for soil in the form of hard clay and rocks, you may need to add some sand or pea sized crushed granite (1/6) or Gypsom to break that up. You can also add some pine straw or pine chips (1/6) to add acid, (we are really high in Alkaline), and lots of nutrient rich organic matter (1/3) which is compost! (compost will save the world) . 

As shown above, you can now find a myriad of organic mixes for compost, composted soils and raised bed soil. It couldn’t be more convenient to be organic and it certainly doesn’t cost more. Chemicals are more expensive on the wallet and the planet and Mother Nature needs our help. These plastic bags also work well for solarizing weedy or dormant beds and work great for killing out grass in a new bed area.  

Every year we get a huge scoop of mulch in our truck and distribute compost over every square inch of our property in 1/4 -1/2 inch including the trees. This is a great process for both of spring and late fall as composting in the spring feeds the entire yard chelates any previous chemical damage. Composting in the fall helps feed dormant roots and winterizes the lawn.

Aeration is a must in Central Texas and I recommend you aerate lawns every few years at least, but your beds should be done every spring. Be sure not to walk on the beds that you have tilled or prepared for planting. Walking into aerated beds removes the air that you have created by turning the soil, and will compact the root zones as well as prevent water from absorbing as needed. I like to go throughout my beds with a tool such as the Garden claw, or pitch fork and stab 6 to 8 inches into the soil and till the beds for aeration and water absorption as well as forcing compost into the soil depth. Once beds have been planted you simply top dress with mulch and you’re ready to grow!

It is very important that you NEVER work your soil when it is wet. It changes the composition of your soil, sort of changes its DNA, as it were. It disables its ability to absorb nutrients and in essence can kill it. This is why Grandpa didn’t want me veering off the garden path, compaction is bad enough and in wet soil it’s even worse. If your soil sticks to your tools or you are wearing high heels made from mud, it is too wet to work.

Dark, nutrient rich soil is another area that most

If you have rocky soil, you may have excessive alkaline and your soil test will tell you how to correct that. Typically it will suggest sulfur, but you can also add used coffee grounds which you can find for free at most coffee shops and apply occasionally to the soil. The perfect soil consists of 25% air, 25% water, 40% mineral matter and 10% organic matter. It should be like a chocolate cake that holds tight in your fist and crumbles if you touch it. You should also be finding a whole lot of worms .This can take several years of this process to completely transform your soil, so don’t get discouraged, it will come. If you have really tragic soil (dirt) than I advise you make raised beds at least 1′ deep to give your plants a fighting chance. If you find that this process sounds a lot like work, then make it simple…add an inch of compost in the Spring and mulch in the Fall, but make sure you have at least 6 inches of loose material to work in.

I love liquid seaweed because it is a one stop shop for feeding. Seaweed feeds from soil to flower and helps chelate chemical damage as well as strengthening the plant in harsh weather. I have also found it works brilliantly with chlorotic plants and edible plants of all kinds. 

Root activators are also a must have for planting and transplantation. Keep the root fed and the whole plant will do better. Giving the root a head start from planting or transplanting gives the plant the greatest advantage to establish before summer or winter arrives.

Organic Weed prevention and mosquito dunks are also helpful in the landscape for organic solutions and there are a whole variety of excellent organic fertilizer and pest and disease control that can assist in your soils continuing productivity over the years. 

Look, here’s the bottom line, I use only organic protocols for pest control and fertilizers and I add compost religiously. I like to keep it simple for great results and I use the simplest methods in my yard and my yard is pretty awesome. More importantly, these are methods and techniques that have been used for centuries. So begin your lawn or garden with the best quality soil, compost and mulch you can buy and let the ground do the rest.

if you would like more information about soil conditioning, plant selection and organic gardening call me for a landscape consultation, email me at

Happy Gardening!!

Lisa LaPaso

Lisa’s Landscape & Design (“like” me on Facebook)

“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”

quote of the day: “Gardening is a way of showing that you believe in tomorrow.” -unknown,

Plant of the day: Pink Skullcap, full Sun, low water, evergreen mounding ground cover with little hot pink flowers.

1 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on Lisa's Landscape & Design and commented:

    Soil is equally important as the plant selection.

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