How to Improve the Soil of Your Raised Beds

People who love their gardens can tell you about all the perks of raised bed gardening, from improved pest control to better soil drainage and easier weed management. However, the success of your specific garden will depend on the quality of your soil. If the soil is less than great, it can cause issues with plant yield and growth. On the other hand, great soil can create thriving, strong plants.  Today, we’ll be looking at steps to improve the soil quality of your raised beds to ensure the best garden season this year and all the ones that follow it.

The Basics of Soil Quality

Before we dive into ways to improve your soil, you should know the basics about this crucial component of your garden. Soil composition, texture, and pH all play a part in determining how suitable it is for plant growth. Doing a soil test is the first step you need to take. There are two options here. You can order a soil test through your local county Agricultural Extension Service or you can purchase an at-home soil test kit.

A soil test is a great way to learn more about the nutrients and pH levels of your soil. The pH level is important since it has an impact on how many nutrients are available for plants. For instance, most vegetables do well in neutral or somewhat acidic soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. However, soil texture is also good to be aware of. Whether the soil is clayey, sandy, or loamy, it affects water drainage and retention. After you have this information, you can start making changes to address issues and optimize growing conditions for your garden.

Steps to Improve Raised Bed Soil Quality

Maintaining soil quality is a must when you want great harvests from healthy plants. As time goes on, soil becomes depleted, which can cause less fertility and plant growth. However, there are solutions and we’ll be sharing some of our favorites below.

Native Soil

If the soil in your raised bed has shrunk by a few inches over a year, it may not have essential mineral soil. Bagged soil often does not contain enough, which can lead to poor draining and other issues. Mineral soil, which includes clay, sand, and silt adds permanence and structure to your raised beds.

You can access native soil from your yard if no chemical contaminants are present. Alternatively, purchase mineral soil with lots of sand and clay. Fill your raised beds with 50% mineral soil at a minimum as it will settle over time. This prevents the need for constant reapplication.

Homemade Compost

If your settling is less substantial, adding organic items like those found in homemade compost can be a great solution. Compost is a fertilizer that releases more slowly to create more nutrients and microbial activity. Adding an inch of compost each year is good for general maintenance while four inches is better for depleted beds.

Well-Rotted Livestock Manure

Livestock manure, which comes from animals like cows, chickens, and rabbits, has tons of organic matter and nutrients for your raised bed soil. Manure can help improve the soil structure and support microbial activity. Add about one to four inches in the fall so it has time to cure before you plant in the spring.


Biochar is a very porous charcoal made by heating plant components without the use of oxygen. It enhances the structure and fertility of your soil and is a great addition to foster useful microbes. Before you use it, inoculate the biochar with fertilizer such as worm castings or compost tea. After it has been charged, it stays stable in the soil for long periods and can promote soil health.

Leaf Mold

Leaf mold is made by decomposing leaves over one to three years. It’s a renewable type of organic matter for any raised bed soil. High in nutrients like carbon, leaf mold is great for water retention and improved drainage and can neutralize pH. Add three inches as mulch to nourish and protect your soil all year.

Green Manures

Cover cropping with green manure over the winter can improve soil structure and fertility. Cold-hardy plants, such as grains and legumes, retain moisture, suppress weeds, and create a habitat for microbes. Grains help with nutrient retention while legumes add nitrogen to the soil. Chop down the cover crops in the spring and enrich the soil with their matter.

Garden Mulch

The final method to improve soil quality is to protect your raised bed soil using a good-sized layer of garden mulch. This could include shredded leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, or straw. Mulch prevents soil erosion, weed growth, and compaction while preserving soil temperature and moisture. Add about three inches to keep the microbiome in good shape and support the best plant growth.

How to Maintain Great Soil Quality

Once you have the soil quality you desire, you want to be sure you keep it that way. There are several ways to do this and most of them are pretty simple. First, consider regular monitoring. Assess the soil through tests and inspection. Adjust as needed. Crop rotation is another great option. Rotate crops each year to reduce risks and prevent depletion.

In addition, you can add mulch to suppress weeds, converse water, and regulate temperature. Another thing to consider is cover cropping. During the offseason, add cover crops to protect the soil from erosion and suppress weeds.

Learn More Gardening Tips at Stoney Creek Farm

Improving the quality of your soil is essential for raised bed gardening success. When you understand the characteristics of your soil and address any deficiencies, you can create a wonderful growing environment for your plants. Regular maintenance and monitoring can go a long way toward ensuring your soil is productive and fertile, perfect for ensuring bountiful harvests and healthy growth in years to come.

Never gardened before?  If you live near the Franklin, TN area, we have rental gardens where you can learn all the basics and have a resource to answer questions.

Do you have other questions about gardening or sustainable living? Peruse the Stoney Creek Farm blog posts to get the insights you desire. We offer numerous classes and seminars that can also help you ensure you create the garden you’ve always wanted.