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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  • Applying fertiliser before planting. Credit:Tim Sandall/RHS The Garden.

    Plant nutrition: feeding plants

    Fertilisers are given to improve plant growth rates and to boost yields of flowers or fruit. However, feeding plants is not always necessary. Sometimes looking after the soil is more important and enables plants to access nutrients already present in the ground.

  • ©RHS WSYD0012731

    Rhododendrons on alkaline soils

    Rhododendrons are regarded as ericaceous or lime-hating plants unsuitable for alkaline or limey soils. Some species and rootstocks may have some tolerance of more alkaline conditions. 

  • Seaweed makes a good mulch for the vegetable garden. Image: ©

    Seaweed products

    Seaweed has been used as a soil improver for centuries, particularly in coastal areas. Seaweed contains several useful plant nutrients, including nitrogen, potassium, phosphate and magnesium. There are dried and liquidised forms available from garden centres and seaweed is a common additive to fertilisers, both organic and non-organic.

  • Clay soil

    Soil types

    Knowing whether your soil type is clay, sand, silt, loam, peat or chalk will help you choose the right plants for your garden and maintain them in good health. 

  • Digging

    Soil: cultivation

    Soil cultivation or digging may be hard work but, if taken slowly, it need not be back-breaking. In fact, here we describe how it can often be omitted or at least minimised.

  • Soil pH colour chart

    Soil: understanding pH and testing soil

    When designing and planting your garden, you need to know whether the soil is acid or alkaline, as different plants thrive in different soils. The soil pH is a number that describes how acid or alkaline your soil is. A pH of 7.0 is considered neutral. An acid soil has a pH value below 7.0 and above 7.0 the soil is alkaline.

  • If your topsoil is poor, you may need to buy more in. Image: Tim Sandall/RHS

    Topsoil: buying

    Topsoil is the uppermost layer of soil, which is high in nutrients and organic matter. It is widely available to buy in bags or in bulk from specialist suppliers, garden centres and DIY superstores. It can be used for making new beds, borders, raised beds or as a base for lawns, where the natural soil is poor or non-existent.

  • Waterlogging and flooding

    Waterlogging and flooding

    Few garden plants will survive waterlogging or flooding. Prolonged periods of sitting in ground saturated with water causes yellow leaves, root rot and death. However, conditions can be improved using various techniques to promote drainage and prevent damage.

  • Water-retaining granules

    Water-retaining granules

    Water-retaining granules can be added to growing medium to increase its ability to retain water for longer periods of time. They may help reduce the demand of frequent watering during dry spells and are particularly handy in hanging baskets and containers, and where coarse-textured free-draining potting media is used.

  • © RHS PUB0030982

    Woody waste: using as a mulch

    Wood and bark from chipped or shredded tree, shrub and hedge prunings makes a useful mulching material in the garden.

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