How to Fix Your Janky Soil

Soil is fundamental to growing anything in your yard, from a luscious lawn to a crop of nutritious veggies. However, not every homeowner is blessed with the right soil to grow in. Soil is incredibly complex — which is why there is an entire scientific field devoted to understanding it, and which is why so many things can be terribly wrong in your soil. Your soil could be too alkaline or too acidic; it could be too dry or too wet; it could be too sandy or too filled with clay. Anyone of these issues could thwart root development or prevent plants from growing big and strong.

If you have been struggling to grow anything more than weeds despite a rigorous watering and fertilizing schedule, you can safely assume that your soil is to blame. Here are a few tips and tricks for getting your soil back in shape for growing.


Imagine a baby trying to grow while being confined in an especially tight swaddle for years on end. That’s what it’s like for your plants when your soil is compacted. Over time, the soil surrounding your landscape’s roots can settle; issues like heavy winter snows, foot traffic and parked vehicles hasten the process. As the soil is compacted, it becomes more difficult for critical nutrients, like air, water and fertilizer, to reach the roots, and the roots will struggle to grow deeper and send up shoots. If you fail to fix your compacted soil, plants around your yard will start to die — beginning with patches of your lawn.

The solution is aeration. Using a coring aerator, you can remove plugs of soil to loosen the pressure and help the roots of your plants gain the nutrients they need. You can leave the plugs on top of the soil; over the next few days, they should dissolve back into the ground, bringing nutrients with them.


Nothing can grow without food, even plants. However, plants take their food in through their roots, so if your soil is deficient in any nutrients, your plants won’t be able to grow healthily. Experts advise fertilizing your soil at least once per year to reintroduce nutrients that might have been metabolized by your landscape.

It helps to know a bit about fertilizer before you administer any in your yard. Typically, fertilizer is made of three components — nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium — which are represented by a three-number sequence on fertilizer products. If you are applying fertilizer in the spring, you generally want to choose an option with a higher amount of nitrogen, which encourages leafy growth. Conversely, if you are fertilizing in the fall, a greater percentage of phosphorus will help plant roots grow strong, helping your flora survive the upcoming winter. You might get your soil tested or ask a professional to help you choose the right fertilizer for your needs.

Change the pH

If you’ve ever tried the gardening hack of using old coffee grounds to help your rose bushes grow, you have meddled with your soil’s acidity and alkalinity. Some plants, like roses, prefer soil with a low pH, meaning they like some acid in their soil; meanwhile, other plants, like hydrangeas, prefer a high pH, or alkaline/basic soil. The pH level of your soil is largely dependent on your region — for example, soils around Memphis tend to have higher acidity — but the plants you grow and how you augment your soil can also have an impact.

In general, you want to maintain a soil pH close to neutral, unless you are aware of plants like roses or hydrangeas in your garden that like something special. Soil testing tools are relatively inexpensive, and they can tell you if you need to make any changes to the pH. Making soil more acidic is relatively easy: add lime. Increasing alkalinity is a bit more difficult; lawn care services in Memphis will add sulfur, peat moss, compost and perhaps other components to help the soil reach neutral.

Apply Pesticides

Plants aren’t the only things that grow in soil. All sorts of creepy-crawlies live below the surface, and many of them are destructive to your landscape. Unfortunately, pests like insects and weeds often thrive under the same conditions that keep your plants alive and healthy; fortunately, you can always administer pesticides and herbicides to kill the things you don’t want growing in your soil. There are even natural, non-toxic solutions, so you can avoid contaminating your environment with poisons. You might also apply a fungicide to your soil, which can prevent the spread of diseases amongst your garden.

Add New Soil

If worse comes to worst and none of these solutions are helping things grow in the soil you have, you might need to resort to adding new soil to your garden. You can purchase soil with all sorts of properties. For instance, there are water-retaining and well-draining soils, acidic and alkaline soils and more. Buy enough to spread around your landscape, so all of your yard benefits from the new soil.