Clay soils should be dug in autumn to allow winter’s frosts to break up any clumps.
Light or sandy soils should be dug in spring, but you can dig anytime in autumn or spring as you wish.
Don’t worry if you’ve missed your ideal window – just do it whenever you can.
The only firm rule is to take into account the soil’s water levels. Never dig when the soil is waterlogged. If you are unsure, grab a handful of soil and squeeze it together – it should fall apart when you let go, instead of sticking together as a muddy ball.
Most plants need 15cm (around 6 inches) to 20cm (around 8 inches) of soil depth for their roots, so aim to dig to at least the depth of your spade blade.
However, if you want to plant root vegetables like potatoes and carrots, dig your soil over even deeper – up to 30cm.
Before you start digging, you need to remove all the weeds. Use a hand fork to lever the weed out of the ground and make sure to remove all roots. Some weeds can regrow from the tiniest portion of root, so being thorough now will save you endless weeding next year.
What to do
You can use compost, leafmould, tree bark, mushroom compost, well-rotted manure – anything you can get in bulk. Mix in the organic matter as you dig over your soil. When you dig out a spadeful of soil, add organic matter to the trench.
As a general rule, use a wheelbarrow full of organic matter per square metre of garden soil. It will help your new plants thrive.
Tip: If you are shifting lots of soil, pile it onto plastic sheeting until you need it.
Vegetables in particular benefit from being planted in warmed soil. It allows for earlier sowing and planting, and encourages speedier growth and fruiting later on.
Early vegetables that like warmed soil in spring include peas, leeks, beetroot, carrots, lettuce, rocket, parsnips, radish, spinach, turnips, broad beans, broccoli and
You can also warm the soil for tender crops sown in late spring such as squash, sweetcorn, courgettes, French beans and runner beans.
Now that the soil is ready, check out my complete guides to planting bulbs and seeds and add beautiful plants and flowers to your garden.