What is Soil Cultivation?

Mary McMahon

Soil cultivation is a practice which is designed to improve the condition of the soil prior to establishing crops or decorative plants. Cultivation is an important step in gardening or farming which can determine whether or not plants will thrive. Some soil needs minimal cultivation before planting, while other soil may need to be worked intensely. Gardeners and farmers determine what type of cultivation the soil needs by examining it, and some also send out samples for soil analysis to learn about the specific composition of the soil.

Cultivation protects crops like potatoes.
Cultivation protects crops like potatoes.

One of the most common reasons to practice soil cultivation is to address soil which has become compacted. Soils tend to compact naturally over time, but this is bad for plants, as they may have difficulty growing and accessing nutrients. Soil can be quickly and simply loosened by digging to a set depth, as many home gardeners do when preparing vegetable beds, and it can also be plowed or tilled. While the soil is loosened, gardeners can also pull out rocks, sticks, and other materials in the soil which could inhibit the growth of plants.

Tillers are used for soil cultivation.
Tillers are used for soil cultivation.

Soil cultivation can also include adding soil amendments to improve the health of the soil. Compost is a classic and widely used example of a soil amendment, added to the soil with the goal of making it more rich. Other soil amendments can include sand, for plants which like sandy soil, straw or moss to help the soil hold moisture, and fertilizers. It may take several years of building soil up with soil amendments to obtain the desired texture and composition.

Soil should not be over-cultivated.
Soil should not be over-cultivated.

People also practice soil cultivation while crops are growing. It is important to make sure that soil is aerated throughout the growing season, and additives such as mulch can be used to protect the soil while crops are growing, in addition to providing protection to the roots of crops. Fertilizers may also be periodically added to the soil during the growing season at key times to encourage plants to thrive.

It is possible to cultivate soil too much. If the soil is pulverized, it tends to become more compact, because it has no structure to support aeration. Over fertilization during soil cultivation can result in runoff of fertilizer, which in addition to being wasteful is also harmful to the environment. Working soil while it is wet may also be harmful, as it can damage the structure of the soil and contribute to compaction.

Farmers sometimes send soil samples to labs for analysis of its composition.
Farmers sometimes send soil samples to labs for analysis of its composition.

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Discussion Comments


I was just reading Matthew 13 and was thinking about soil cultivation and how I can cultivate the soil of my heart. This article on Soil Cultivation truly helped guide my understanding! Amen!


Sometimes soil needs to breathe so that it can receive proper exposure to nutrients, water and sun. This is especially true if you want to plant new seed. To this end I bought a Toro soil cultivator, which is an attachment I put on the front end of my riding mower.

This thing is awesome! It breaks up any soil, tills it, de-thatches and leaves a solid, open bed of soil ready to receive anything you want to plant. It’s the reason that I was so successful when I planted new grass last year. It’s pricey, but well worth it.


@David09 - Soil organic matter is a good measure of a soil’s health. You can collect soil samples, usually from a foot deep or so, and see how many worms you find. Yes, it’s gross but it’s an important step in learning how to cultivate a garden properly.

Basically if you find something on the order of ten worms, your soil is good; that means those critters find a lot of food in your soil. If you find only one worm, you’ll need to add amendments like fertilizer. That’s what I did and it made a big difference in my garden.


@everetra - Composting and good top soil make all the difference in the world for your garden-they add soil nitrogen which plants feed on to become lush and healthy.

Another gardening how to tip is that you can make your own compost if you want. You can gather the old weeds that you pluck, along with leaves and stuff and put them in a bin and let them sit in the weather until they turn into rich compost.

It’s not as fast as buying some stuff from the store but you can make as much compost as your lawn (and weeds) will allow. You can also buy a dedicated composting bin to make the process easier.


I once planted a garden of strawberry and blueberry plants in the backyard, and before I could lay down a single plant, I had to improve the soil. This was my first time working the garden so the soil was hard and compacted. I bought some topsoil and compost and then mixed it in with the soil in the garden until I had rich, fertile soil in which to lay my plants down.

In hindsight it was the smartest decision I had ever made in the garden, because it resulted in strawberry and blueberry plants that were healthy and ripe. I’m convinced that this would not have been the case had I simply laid the plants down in that hard, compacted soil.

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