Seeding your garden at the correct time, with the right mix of soil and organic matter, can be difficult to fully comprehend, especially if you’re a novice gardener. Knowing whether or not your topsoil needs to be compact is essential to the success of your plants, and understanding the science behind it is imperative before you begin seeding.
Topsoil needs to be compacted before seeding, but if you pack it too much, you’ll create a harsh environment for those all-important roots to flourish and grow. Compressing your topsoil a little bit is a good idea, but be careful not to flatten the soil completely.
In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss the science behind compacting your soil before seeding and why it’s not always the best idea. I’ll also go through how to fully prepare your topsoil before planting and let you know what can be done about topsoil that is too compacted.
The Science Behind Topsoil Compaction Before Seeding
Before we begin, it’s essential to understand precisely what soil is and how it needs to be cared for. You should think of your soil as a living, breathing thing that needs certain nutrients and environmental conditions so it can be a lovely home for your plants.
Your soil has the following basic requirements:
- A good amount of aeration
- A balance of nutrients
- Living microorganisms and bacteria
Before planting anything in your soil, you need to imagine your soil to be the living thing that protects and enhances anything that grows within it. This means that taking good care of your topsoil is imperative before it can house any plants.
If you compact your topsoil too much, you’ll end up with soil that can’t breathe. If your soil can’t breathe, your plants won’t be able to grow efficiently. The small tunnels and furrows in your topsoil (and subsoil) allow for adequate aeration, so it’s essential that your soil isn’t compressed entirely.
If your topsoil is too compact, you’ll find its capacity to filtrate water and nutrients lacking – and your plants just won’t be happy about it.
On the other hand, if your topsoil is too loose, it won’t be able to support the roots of your plants, making it much more difficult to transfer those all-important nutrients.
Balance is critical when it comes to compacting your topsoil before seeding. While some plants (such as plants that grow fruit) can withstand minor impaction, others just won’t stand for it. Therefore, compressing the topsoil slightly is your best option before seeding.
How To Compact Topsoil Before Seeding
Now that you understand the science behind compacting your topsoil, we can move on to the best ways to compact without damaging the overall integrity of the soil.
Your best bet is to remove any considerable gaps in the soil while maintaining some looseness around the top few inches. Read on below for more detailed instructions:
- Using a rake or shovel, remove most of the soil from its bed. Leave a few inches of subsoil in the bottom and put the rest of the earth to the side.
- Very gently, walk across the soil from one side to the other. Be careful not to go over any part of the soil more than once. Once you’re done, rake the top of the earth very loosely.
- Place another layer of loose soil (preferably a few inches) over the top of the newly-compacted soil. Walk carefully across this layer as well, and rake the ground when you’re done.
- Repeat this process until all the soil is back in place. Once you’ve reached the end of the process, use a rake to gently release the topsoil to create some looseness. This will allow new plants to penetrate the soil easily.
If you’re worried about walking over the soil, you can also complete this process with water compaction. Using a gentle but slightly pressurized hose over each layer of soil can allow aeration without too much constriction. Just remember to repeat step four once you’re done, so the topsoil is slightly loose.
How To Loosen Soil That Is Too Compact
If you’ve already placed your seeds in overly-compacted soil, don’t fret – there are still some things you can do to help your soil loosen up.
One of the best ways to improve soil aeration is using live earthworms. Earthworms burrow away through the soil, releasing compacted soil over time. Additionally, they are a helpful asset if you think your soil needs a little natural fertilization. You can’t go wrong with using earthworms in your soil, even if it’s not too compact, since they’re good for the earth and the plants.
Another way to loosen soil that is too compact is to avoid messing with the soil too much.
If you have a habit of tilling your soil on a regular basis, try to restrain yourself. Instead, pass a layer of organic matter over the top of the soil. In this case, you can use any organic material you like, but compost is usually the most natural way to improve soil quality. Using peat moss is also an option, but it’s not as environmentally friendly as compost.
Finally, an excellent way to tell that you shouldn’t mess too much with your soil is if it’s too wet. Soil that is completely saturated won’t pass adequate nutrients to plants and won’t loosen up too much. Your best option in this situation is to test the soil and, if it’s too wet, wait for it to dry slightly before attempting to loosen it up.
How To Prepare Topsoil Before Seeding
You’ll need to go back to the basics to prepare your topsoil before seeding. Remember all the little things your soil needs to thrive – nutrients, microbes, aeration, etc. – before seeding.
Here’s a complete list of all the things you need to check before seeding:
- Make sure your soil is completely level. If you’re sure the soil is not too compact, prepare the topsoil by removing any lumps and bumps visible. If it isn’t level, it will be more difficult for seeds to send their roots down, so use a rake to level out the top.
- Make sure the soil is free from weeds. Weeds take up essential nutrients from the earth and leave less room for plants to spread their roots. You can opt to use a weed killer or pull out the roots by hand. Just ensure you’re pulling out the roots, not just the weed flowers.
- Ensure you’re preparing your topsoil at the correct time of year. Tilling and preparing are usually best done in the fall to allow winter rains to penetrate the soil. You can then consider seeding in the early spring after the final frosts.
- A few days before you begin seeding, use a fertilizer to prep the topsoil. This will give your baby plants more strength to push their roots deeper into the soil.
- Use a layer of compost to provide extra nutrients to the soil. It’s essential to keep the compost relatively loose to allow for adequate aeration.
- One thing you’ll undoubtedly want to do before seeding is to check the overall pH of your soil. This can be done using a pH meter, which you can buy from your local nursery or online.
If you’re looking for a decent soil pH meter, have a look at this Kensizer Soil Tester from Amazon.com. It’s straightforward to use – all you need to do is insert the meter into the ground a few inches and wait for the reading to appear. Your soil pH should ideally be between 4 and 7. Before testing, you should also research to see what pH your seeds will thrive. This will let you know whether or not to fix the pH.
For your fertilizer, try to use something all-natural without any harmful chemicals. This will promote slow-release growth without compromising the long-term health of your plants. Always double-check the label before you buy it to ensure it is GMO-free.
If you’re looking for an all-natural fertilizer, this Pennington UltraGreen Starter Lawn Fertilizer from Amazon.com is an excellent choice. For a reasonable price, you can spread it across a whopping 5,000 square feet (464 square meters). It helps to promote strong roots quickly and contains slow-release nitrogen for long-lasting effects.
For the best results, use this fertilizer in early spring. Irrigate your lawn before applying it, and then wait a couple of days for the product to sink in. You can begin seeding once this process is finished.
Your topsoil should be slightly compacted before seeding. It shouldn’t be overly packed because this will prevent delicate roots from establishing themselves deep in the subsoil.
You can gently walk over the soil to keep it level, or you can choose to use a low-pressure water hose over each layer to give it adequate compacting.
Always remember to take good care of your soil before planting. The soil is the lifeblood of your plants, so maintaining a good soil structure will ensure your seeds get a good chance to survive.