Creating a Low-maintenance Garden: Soil Prep

I’m passionate about creating low-maintenance gardens because they require less time and energy to manage, leaving us more time to devote to the everyday life. The best place to begin with building a low-maintenance garden is by prepping your soil. And fall is one of my favorite times to start as the cooler weather is less stressful on us gardeners.

To many people, soils can be boring. You may have messy memories of making mud pies made of dirt or digging up bugs as a kid, but your excitement over soils probably ends there. For plants, however, soil is the foundation and the basis of their existence (well, for most of them).

Providing your plants with good, rich soil sets the stage to reduce the amount of work you’ll need to do to maintain a beautiful landscape. Understanding your soil conditions is an essential first step to grow healthy plants and create a low-maintenance garden.

Understanding Soil pH

Soil pH ranges from acidic to alkaline and most plants prefer a particular soil pH to perform their best. In our northern Virginia area, the soil is typically acidic. This means you have two options as a gardener:

  1. Choose plants that have evolved to live in acidic soil conditions (for example, azalea, rhododendron, andromeda, and heather to name a few).
  2. Add lime to your soil to increase your soil’s pH, allowing you to add other types of plants to your landscape.

Having the right soil pH for your plants can be crucial to your success. To find out your soil pH, stop in to any of our plant clinics and pick up a soil pH meter or a soil sample kit. Our plant specialists are happy to help you find plants that will thrive in your natural conditions, or help you with liming recommendations.

Adding Organic Material

The next thing to consider is the amount of organic matter—compost, manures and other decomposed matter—in your garden bed. Organic matter helps to rejuvenate and condition your soil, increasing the soils ability to hold nutrients, water, and sustain microbial activity. The soil truly becomes alive with just the right amount (and you thought soils were boring!). We recommend a ratio of about 1/3rd organic matter to 2/3rd of your native soil for just the right balance.