After you are satisfied with the plan for your garden, you need to prepare the soil. Soil is the most crucial element for gardening success. An old adage states “for every $10, spend $9 on soil and $1 on plants.” This seems counter-intuitive. However, a mediocre plant will thrive in excellent soil, while in poor soil an expensive, great looking plant will decline. See this previous post on the mysteries of soil. Soil holds water, nutrients and organic matter that are required by plants. Soil is made up of particles; “loam” is a mixture of the two most common particles. Sand is the largest; it drains the fastest and has limited ability to retain moisture and nutrients. Clay is the smallest; it drains very slowly-if at all. Some clay soil is so tight it practically forms a clay “bowl” when you dig a hole in it. In addition, plants require air, so it is important that the soil is not compacted. If there is not enough air in the soil, plant growth will be limited and the plant may die. Compost improves every kind of soil. Compost helps sandy soil to hold moisture and it breaks up clay, allowing moisture to drain. In all kinds of soil it provides air pockets and micro-organisms which are vital to the health and arability of your soil. If you are creating a garden from lawn or unworked soil, the first step is to mark the outline you desire with a length of rope or garden hose. If you read the great garden books out of Great Britain, you will learn that the classic method to prepare a new bed is double digging. There is now some debate in the gardening community about this practice, but it has worked for generations. And WORK is definitely the defining word here. More recently, a new practice has been espoused that is less daunting. When I first heard of this, the thinking was to use glyphosate on the grass or weeds within the outline and cover with black plastic for a season-typically, over the winter. However, I like to avoid the use of chemicals as much as possible. My experience shows that you can actually do just as well by covering your marked area with several layers of newspaper, thoroughly wet down, and then piling on amended soil. In a few months, the area should be ready to plant. If the area will accept enough soil to plant in-such as in a raised bed- you may plant immediately. The newspaper lasts long enough to kill the plants below it, but is permeable to water and eventually biodegrades. I have used this method for replacing a lawn and also for creating an island bed within a lawn. However you decide to prepare your bed, you must mark your outline, remove rocks and weeds and loosen the soil. Add compost to your soil to prepare for planting. If the soil is good, a 2-3” layer raked in should be enough. If the soil is very bad you may add up to 50% compost. DO NOT plant in 100% compost. If that makes you curious, check out this previous post.