ASK MARTHA: Is This Soil Okay?

All the dirt on dirt from Martha Stewart

Question: Hi Martha, Can I plant in last year’s soil? 

Martha: The first step in gardening know-how is understanding your soil. But the basic terminology and principles of gardening can seem overwhelming, especially to beginners. Building a foundation of knowledge isn’t hard, though. Master my soil primer below and you'll have a productive season in the garden! 

What is soil?

The function of soil is to anchor plant roots and provide water, air, and nutrients to support growth. 

Soil is a living thing; a varied blend of different-size minerals, or rock, particles—ranging from coarse sands to finer silts and clays—along with organic matter. The unique mix in your garden determines how readily moisture is absorbed and retained, how easily roots can penetrate, and whether there is a supply of vital plant nutrients.

The composition and texture of soil is one of the most important factors to consider when gardening. For example:

  • Extremely sandy soil will not hold water or nutrients well.
  • Soil that is dense in clay, will be difficult to work, and your plants will struggle.
  • A loamy mix (roughly equal amounts of sand, clay, and silt) is the best environment for growing most plants and vegetables.

Why do I need a soil test?

A soil test will pinpoint any deficiencies and indicate which nutrients will turn your soil into a fertile growing medium. You can perform the test yourself using an inexpensive kit or contact your local extension for assistance. To find an office near you, go to cooperative extension offices. The results provide a clear reading of your soil’s fertility and what amendments you will need to make.

Different types of soil amendments and gloves

How do I improve my soil?

Whether you are gardening directly in-ground, in a raised bed, or in a container, supplementing your soil is a simple task once you know its composition. Here are some basic steps to help you improve your soil.

Organic matter

The portion of the soil that is derived exclusively from plant or animal remains is called organic matter. It occurs naturally in most soils, but you can supplement it with compost, manure, peat, or sphagnum. Adding organic matter generally makes the soil looser and airier, which enhances its ability to absorb water. As a result, the soil will retain necessary nutrients and moisture between waterings. While organic matter occurs naturally in soil, you should supplement it yearly by adding three to six inches of fresh organic mix, such as Miracle-Gro® Organic Raised Bed & Garden Soil or Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics All Purpose In-Ground Soil depending on the size of your bed or container.


Mulch is a porous layer of material that, when spread a couple of inches thick on soil, keeps weeds at bay, locks in moisture, prevents erosion, and boosts the quality of the soil. It also keeps the soil cool and moist in warm weather, cutting down on the need for watering. Mulch comes in many forms. Miracle-Gro® Organic All Natural Mulch is a great option for perennial and vegetable beds.

Brown mulch


Fertilizers are used to boost the soil's nutrient content. Use liquid or water-soluble fertilizers for a quick boost; granular ones break down more slowly, providing a more gradual, long-lasting release. Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics All Purpose Plant Nutrition Granules is an excellent all-purpose granular fertilizer, and a very good water soluble fertilizer is Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics All Purpose Plant Nutrition.

Article by Martha Stewart, as part of the Growing with Martha Stewart partnership.