Beth Cook, Mammoth Cave Transplants:
Getting the soil ready for your flowers and vegetables are important first steps in growing a successful garden. Time spent in preparation reduces the time you'll have to spend maintaining and weeding your garden over the course of the growing season.
Location, Location, Location. Vegetable gardens and most flowerbeds require at least 6 hours of full sun each day. Choose a level spot that has well-drained soil. Thick grass or vigorous weed growth usually indicate soil drainage and nutrient levels that will support healthy garden plants. If the area is grassy you will first need to remove the top layer of sod, any weeds, rocks, and debris.
Test the soil. To get the best results in your garden you should definitely do a soil test. Do-it-yourself soil test kits work best for detecting the soil pH, but give only a rough idea of the nutrient levels. Professional tests provide more thorough and accurate information and recommendations. Send a sample of garden soil to a private or cooperative extension office soil-testing lab for nutrient and pH analysis. Test results will tell you which minerals and pH amendments your soil needs to grow healthy vegetables and flowers.
Add amendments. Depending on your test results you may need to adjust the soil pH -- its measure of acidity or alkalinity -- by adding ground limestone or sulfur as recommended by the soil test results. To improve the soil fertility, clay soil drainage, and sandy soil water-holding capacity you can add organic material, such as compost, well-rotted livestock manure, or composted fir bark. Apply a 1 to 2 inch layer of organic material over the garden.
Turn the soil. Work the amendments into the top 6 to 12 inches of soil with a rototiller or garden fork. Break up large clods and remove rocks and roots. Work the soil only when it is dry enough to crumble easily after squeezing - never when it is saturated with water.
Below are some additional soil fixes and amendments depending on your soil condition.