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Soil for planting: tilling and fertilizing

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    Beginner Do-It-Yourselfer - Easy
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How well your plants will grow depends largely on the quality and depth of your topsoil. It is vital you take the time to prepare the soil in your garden before you plant.
This guide explains: how to properly fertilize, how to create balanced soil for gardening if you have acidic or clay soils, how to distinguish between different types of compost, how to choose among the fertilizers available, and how to solve some of the problems you’re likely to face. Learn the basics for creating the ideal soil conditions to grow a successful and abundant garden.

Steps to follow for a successful garden

The first step in soil preparation is to address any problems regarding the depth of your topsoil, soil erosion, or drainage. Soil fertility is next, which involves examining the soil’s structure and improving its different properties:

  • physical properties: aeration, drainage, structure
  • biological properties: micro-organisms in the soil
  • chemical properties: soil acidity (pH).

If the soil is fertile, it will provide a constant and gradual quantity of nutrients for your plants. Additional fertilizer is needed to nourish plants directly when the soil is lacking in some of the nutrients needed to sustain plant productivity or vigour.

Turning and working the soil makes it easier for your plants to grow.


Effective fertilizing involves the following steps:
1. Analyze your soil so you can better determine which soil conditioners and fertilizers you should apply and in what quantities; most garden centres are able to perform this task.
2. Condition your existing soil, if necessary, by adding sand, peat moss, or clay soil according to the type of soil you have.
3. Neutralize the acidity in your soil with a lime material such as dolomitic lime or increase the acidity with peat moss, iron sulphate or aluminum sulphate; liming materials should be applied in spring and fall.
4. Apply organic matter in the form of compost or manure to improve biological activity and to enrich the soil. Well-decomposed compost and fertilizer should be applied in the spring, or summer at the latest.
5. Apply granular or solublefertilizer around your cultivated plants according to individual plant requirements or if you see signs of any deficiency such as malformation or discolouration.

Clay soil

Soil with high clay content is very heavy. It hardens as it dries and becomes sticky when wet. This type of soil does not drain well and compacts easily; it does, however, retain moisture and nutrients.

  • Improve the soil by adding coarse sand and peat moss, which will reduce the weight of the soil.
  • Add calcium (lime) or gypsum (with an alkaline pH) with some composted manure to enhance the soil’s structure.

Sandy soil

Sandy soil is light. Lacking clay content, it drains freely but loses its nutrients. It also dries out very quickly and tends to be on the acid side. However, it is easy to work with.

  • Improve the soil by adding clay soil, peat moss and black earth.
  • Add organic matter every year to maintain fertility and enhance its ability to retain moisture and nutrients.


Compost is the end product of decomposed plant and animal matter and the most basic form of fertilizer. It is both a conditioner and a fertilizer because it both improves the soil and nourishes the plants. Inherently well-balanced, compost provides all the minerals plants need.

It is highly recommended you do your own composting. You can do this in a commercial composter that will not disturb the appearance of your yard.

  • Locate the compost pile or bin in a discreet area near your vegetable garden.
  • Put plants around it to hide it.
  • Manage your compost pile properly and it won’t smell.

If you don't want to make your own compost, commercial compost and decomposed organic material is of excellent quality and readily available.


  • Apply a layer of compost over your soil, 0.5 to 3 cm, depending on the fertility of your soil and the needs of your plants.
  • Work the compost gently into the soil to a depth of 10 cm.
  • Throw a bit under trees and shrubs and in between perennials if they are protected from the sun by mulch.

Granular or soluble fertilizer

Applications of granular or soluble fertilizer are often necessary to enhance the growth of fruiting plants, fast-growing plants, plants with abundant blooms, and potted plants.

Fertilizers provide the nutrients plants need in the right proportions for a given period of growth and for a given type of plant (flowering plant, leafy plant, tree, lawn, vegetable, etc.).

Granular fertilizer fills the holes made when aerating the earth, nourishing the tree.Turfgrass, like all other plants, needs certain minerals to grow well. The first fertilization encourages quick growth in early spring. During the summer, the second application in June ensures stable growth and green grass, and the third application in July helps grass overcome the most difficult midsummer conditions. The final application in the fall is the most vital step, which is to prepare the lawn for winter and promote root development.





To fertilize a tree: make holes in the ground around the tree 10 to 15 cm deep.Apply a first dose of 15-6-12 Fertilizer for Trees and Shrubsto your young trees, shrubs and conifers around the end of April or in May. A second dose toward the middle or end of June will set them up for the summer season. The best way to fertilize trees is to aerate the soil; run an aerator in a zigzag pattern under the tree, pulling out plugs of ground 10 to 15 cm long. Then go back over the area with your fertilizer spreader. The fertilizer will fill the holes and nourish your tree.






The different fertilizer formulations show the various percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. This is what these ingredients do for plants:

Nitrogen (N): promotes growth and encourages plants to produce dark green leaves.
Phosphorus (P): encourages root growth, flower production and resistance to disease.
Potassium (K): increases winter-hardiness and is critical to the continuing health of all plants.


  • Don't use a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen after the middle of July for plants in the ground and after mid-August for container plants. If plants have a growth spurt after these dates they will develop young shoots that will only freeze as the cold weather sets in. This also applies for perennials.
  • Avoid over-fertilization. In the case of nitrogen, this can either stimulate too much growth of one kind or block another. Excess nitrogen can block certain nutrients; for example, plants that normally bloom can instead develop lush leaves and no flowers. Too much fertilizer can also make plants fragile and vulnerable to pests and disease.

Foliar fertilization

Foliar fertilization using a liquid formula of fish and algae gives tangible results in just a few days. Use formulas rich in nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium, depending on the results you are looking for. They make excellent fertilizers to add to any basic fertilization program.


If a plant shows certain symptoms (i.e., stops growing, leaves are turning yellow) there is a good chance that it is lacking in necessary nutrients. However, some symptoms might not have anything to do with the plant itself but something else altogether: the soil may be too damp or the pH levels too high or too low, or there may be an infestation of some insect or disease. If you are unable to detect the problem yourself, take a cutting from the plant in to your gardening centre and talk it over with our specialists. If you apply fertilizer to a plant with sick roots you could aggravate the problem.

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