UCCE Master Gardeners Plumas-Sierra
University of California
UCCE Master Gardeners Plumas-Sierra


Good soils are a key component of a beautiful garden.  Unfortunately, few gardeners start out an ideal fertile loam and must work to build and maintain good garden soil.

Before you begin amending or fertilizing, it is important to understand a little about soil science and the unique characteristics of your site.

Soils 101

Soil is a complex and dynamic environment, formed over thousands of years but where physical, chemical and biological processes are constantly occurring. A good place to begin learning about garden soils is the California Garden Web Soil FAQ website.  For further reading, explore the NRCS Soil Health pages.

After you have a basic understanding of soil science, it is good to learn about the specific soil in your backyard.  The UC Davis SoilWeb is an interactive map that allows you to explore UDSA-NCSS soil survey data throughout the country.  Use the menu to search for your location.

Determining soil texture 

Soil texture is determined by the relative proportion of sand, silt and clay particles. It reveals the soil's fitness for growing plants along with its nutrient and water holding capabilities.

Soil Texture Triangle - with calculator (USDA-NRCS)

Soil Texture Test - Feel & Jar Method (Colorado State Cooperative Extension)

To determine the nutrient elements present (or deficient) in your soil, consider sending a sample to a soil lab to be tested.

How to Take a Soil Sample

Soil Management Resources

One of the best way to improve the structure and  fertility of any garden soil is by incorporating generous amounts of well made compost. 

Composting 101

Worm Compost

Calculating the Carbon: Nitrogen Ratio of your Compost

Compost in a Hurry

Fertilizer, Mulch or Amendment? 

Sheet Mulching

Sheet Mulching - Lasagna Composting - Oregon State University

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