How To Condition Soil
First, avoid degrading soil quality. Walking on garden soil, allowing bare ground to be exposed to rainfall or flooding, and working soil when it’s too wet can all harm tilth. In soil that is low in organic matter, over-working soil can cause a hard crust to form. Exposing bare soil to the elements can also worsen quality, so keep soil covered between crops, such as with tarps, mulch, or cover crops.
Then, think about what changes your soil needs and how you can achieve them. Using soil conditioners (amendments that are meant to improve soil physical condition) is one way to do this. Adding organic matter in the form of compost, manure, or readily available materials like coffee grounds is a reliable means of improving soil quality. These soil conditioners both improve the water retention of sandy soils and improve the drainage of clay soils that tend to become waterlogged. It is usually easier to maintain good tilth in soil that is high in organic matter. And compost provides long-lasting benefits by increasing soil nutrient content and contributing to the biological activity of soil.
Other Methods for Conditioning Soil
Compost is good for almost any soil. But some soil conditioners, such as gypsum and peat, provide benefits only for certain soil types or certain types of plants. Other products sold as soil conditioners have dubious benefits, or the benefits are unknown. Before using soil conditioners, check for reliable evidence of the product’s effectiveness. Some would need to be added in impractically large amounts to change the properties of your soil. Planting cover crops can help you protect bare ground and add organic matter in addition to improving tilth. Taproot crops like forage radish, alfalfa, and chicory can help form channels that allow water to move through compacted or poorly drained soils.