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How to Improve your Soil for successful Autumn Planting


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Autumn is on its way, as leaves turn golden brown and the weather cools, there is plenty to be getting on with in the garden before winter sets in.

With a rise in interest in all things growing, if you are a newbie gardener looking for ideas and advice to stay inspired, keep reading on.

The UK’s leading garden centre retailer is supporting the campaign by HTA to #KeepBritainGrowing. Aiming to enable people of all ages to improve the environment around them, encourage wildlife and most importantly enjoy spending time outside, gardening can, and should, be enjoyed all year round.

How to Improve your soil

As the ideal time to get planting spring bulbs, Dobbies Horticultural Director, Marcus Eyles, shares his expert tips to improve your soil for successful autumn planting…

Improve your soil this autumn –

“Soil is the most important thing in a garden, so it’s well worth giving yours a bit of TLC. Plants need good soil to thrive, as they rely on it for all the nutrients they need – healthy soil means healthy plants and flowers, it is a simple as that.

Of course, not everyone’s soil is perfect, some of us have heavy clay that’s impossible to dig in the winter and rock hard in the summer; while others have earth that’s full of sand and holds onto very little water or nutrients. But all is not lost, it is possible to improve virtually any soil type with a bit of effort and a barrow full of compost, meaning you will be able to give your plants the growing conditions they need.”

You will need:

  • Garden or border fork
  • Farmyard manure
  • General fertiliser (like pelleted chicken manure or bonemeal)
  • Horticultural grit

Step by step:

1. Rid your soil of any weeds and dig it over with a fork. It’s best to dig after rain, as this is when most soils are easiest to work. Don’t dig when soil is frozen or solid after prolonged dry spells
2. Spread a layer of well-rotted manure or garden compost over your soil surface. Spread it nice and thickly – the more you add the better your soil will become
3. Dig the manure into the ground, making sure it’s fully mixed with your soil. If you have heavy clay you can also work in horticultural grit as this stage – this will encourage it to break up. Finish off with a sprinkling of general-purpose fertiliser and fork it into the soil surface – pelleted chicken manure or bone meal is ideal. Repeat the whole process every spring and autumn.

How to Improve your soil

Top tips:

  • Avoid walking on soil when you don’t have to – this will stop it becoming compact, keeping it open and easy to dig
  • Don’t expect instant results – improving soil should be a regular part of your gardening regime and it will gradually get better over time
  • You can always grow special plants in containers if they’re not suited to the soil type you have

Understanding soil

The secret to improving all soil types is working in lots of good organic matter – garden compost or well-rotted manure is ideal. Organic matter helps to break up heavy soils, improving drainage and making them easier to dig – just what you need if you’re struggling with heavy clay. When added to light soils, organic matter provides body and helps to retain moisture, which is essential for healthy plant growth.

Soil sorted, now it’s time to choose your spring flowering bulbs…

Know your bulbs:

  • Daffodils – available in all shades of yellow and great for creating a cheery splash of colour. Miniature types are great for pots and taller ones for borders
  • Tulips – great for creating impact and available in all shapes, colours, and sizes. Ideal for pots or a border
  • Crocus – ideal for a sunny spot at the front of a border or in small pots on a table top
  • Hyacinths – grow for scent and flamboyant flowers. Plant in pots or at the front of a border
  • Alliums – with striking, globe-shaped blooms alliums are real showstoppers. They flower in late spring. Great for big pots or middle of a border of ground cover plants
  • Iris – grow miniature varieties in pots for a patio table. They are great at the front of a sunny border or on a rockery

How to Improve your soil

Top tips:

  • Take the hard work out of planting by using a special bulb planter – they cut through soil easily and you will find them at your local Dobbies.
  • Plant bulbs in your lawn for a meadow-like feel – group them in clumps of 5 bulbs to create a natural look.
  • When buying bulbs choose ones that are firm and remember the bigger the bulb the better the flower.

Find your local store, browse the online collection, read up on expert advice and get inspiration for the season ahead with a host of helpful ‘how to’s’, all at

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