Soil care

Although it's simple to do, soil care reaps rich rewards

digging the soil

What type have you got?

Whatever your soil type there will be plants that love it and treatment that will help it. Make sure you know what is best for your garden soil.

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  • Aucuba blackening. Credit: RHS/Tim Sandall.

    Aucuba blackening

    Aucuba (spotted laurel) is recommended for its robustness and ability to grow in dry, shaded sites. However, despite this reputation, Aucuba can become stressed such as when its roots become waterlogged during cold, wet winters, for example, and as a result the leaves and shoot tips turn black.

  • biochar


    Many claims are made about the soil improver biochar, but scientists, growers and gardeners alike are still learning about its benefits and drawbacks.

  • Chalky soils

    Chalky soils

    Alkaline soils are widely distributed in Britain, and many of these will be derived from chalk or limestone and are commonly referred to as chalky. Although they include Britain's most productive agricultural soils they can be a challenge to garden. Chalky soils are often shallow, stony and free-draining, and added organic matter can decompose rapidly, making them difficult to keep fertile.

    Poor growth and yellowing leaves (chlorosis) are a result of the plants not being able to absorb iron and manganese by their roots. Choosing plants that thrive in alkaline conditions is the best way forward.

  • Chalky soils: plants for

    Chalky soils: plants for

    Chalky soils are alkaline and free-draining, and the depth of soil over chalk varies considerably. The key to gardening in these often drought-prone and nutrient poor soils is to select from the wide range of colourful plants that thrive in dry summers, need sharp drainage and moderate to low fertility.

    Limestone soils have similar characteristics.


  • Chicken manure

    Chicken manure

    Poultry manure is often sold in dried and pelleted form by garden centres and is a good non-chemical fertiliser. Dried, pelleted and powdered forms are distinct from fresh domestic poultry litter, which is best used on the compost heap.

  • Clay soils

    Clay soils

    Soils rich in fine clay particles are called ‘heavy soils’ and, although hard to manage, are also potentially very fertile when treated in the right way.

  • Hydrangea paniculata 'Floribunda' is a good choice for clay soils. Image: RHS/John Trenholm

    Clay soils: plants for

    Without some intervention, clay soils can be like concrete in summer and a sticky mess in winter. Any effort to improve the texture of clay will be rewarded with strong plant growth. This soil is rich in nutrients and will happily accommodate a considerable range of plants.

  • Double digging

    Double digging

    Double digging may be hard work but it is perfect for creating new borders and deepening shallow topsoil.

  • Earthworm (Allolobophora sp.) casts on a lawn. Credit: RHS/Entomology.


    Britain has about eight to ten species of earthworms that are likely to be found in gardens. They vary in size and colour, but all have a role to play in creating good soil structure and fertility.

  • Fertiliser labels contain a wealth of information. Image: RHS

    Fertiliser labels explained

    The contents of fertilisers, as described on the packet can seem quite daunting. However, labels explain the composition and nutrient content of the product, helping you to decide what you need to buy and how best to use it.

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