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A Thriving Garden Starts With Healthy Soil

Soil Preparation: Building Your Soil Health Naturally & Organically

By David Salman, High Country Gardens Founder & Chief Horticulturist

In the garden, a healthy living soil is the foundation for resilient, vigorous plants. All too often, I see customers load up with lots of plants, but very few soil-building products. As the saying goes, “Don’t plant a $5 tree in a $1 hole.” While the analogy may be dated by today’s pricing, the idea remains relevant whether you are planting a tree, perennial, or bulb: Ensuring healthy soil in your new transplant’s root zone is the key to long-term success.

What is often forgotten is that soil is a living underground ecosystem supporting the plants growing in it. Soil and plants are interdependent in many ways, so to feed your plants, you must feed the soil. I recommend using organic and natural fertilizers and amendments, as nature intended. The result will be a healthy garden that requires less irrigation and less maintenance, rewarding you with thriving plants, colorful flowers, and plenty of pollinating bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Get your hands dirty and enjoy the results!

We recommend using organic and natural fertilizers and amendments, as nature intended. 

Top Picks For Natural Soil Amendments

Yum Yum Mix®

The first and most important thing to do is forget about using peat moss.  We’ve been taught from way back that a bale of peat moss is a gardener’s best friend. Wrong! Peat moss is an essential ingredient in soil-less potting mixes, but it has no value when it comes to nourishing the soil. Instead, I use Yum Yum Mix® soil food and top-quality compost as the foundation of my soil preparation.

Invented by a Santa Fe landscaper, this premium fertilizer is unequaled in its ability to help you grow healthy, more colorful plants. Use when transplanting, topdress established plants, or mix into new beds. Blended from the finest natural and organic ingredients to build soil and plant health. 

  • For xeric (waterwise) plants that prefer growing in a “lean” or infertile soil, I dig in a handful of Yum Yum Mix if it’s fall) into a nice wide planting hole.  I will supplement that with a few tablespoons of Soil Mender's Mineral Boost. This provides an essential boost of trace minerals that many native plants crave and helps to activate the soil’s microorganisms.
  • For plants with moderate water needs, I combine the Yum Yum Mix with compost (usually 1 part Yum Yum Mix to 3 parts compost) and work it into a nice wide planting hole. The Planters II should be included as well.

"Used this mix for years and my plants LOVE IT. I use it with all of my new plants. It's easy to use and with it being organic I don't have to worry about it burning my plants. I don't plant anything without it."

Grizzly in Colorado

"I've used Yum Yum Mix for several years now and highly recommend it. I've used it on my flowers, lawn, shrubs and trees and everything just thrives. Yum Yum Mix is so yummy for those plants!"

Gardener in New Mexico

Plant Success Mycorrhizal Root Inoculant

Enhance established plants with beneficial soil microbes, including mycorrhizae, bacteria, and trichoderma, which help plants access water and oxygen. This water-soluble root inoculant is easily applied to gardens and yards to support thriving soil and maximum plant growth. I strongly recommend the use of Plant Success Mycorrhizal Root Inoculant sprinkled into the hole at planting time, or watered into the soil if the plants have been in the ground and you forgot to add it when they were planted.

The use of mycorrhizal root inoculants is especially important when planting into soils disturbed and compacted by construction, or damaged by long term use of chemical fertilizers and chemicals. For example, you want to use it when planting into old lawn areas where weed-n-feed fertilizers, fungicides, and insecticides have been used. In both cases, the soil’s microbial population has been killed off, and the soil’s natural tilth that supports good water percolation and water holding capacity has been destroyed. The best way to restore soil health and its ability to grow healthy plants is to use a combination of natural and organic ingredients along with the root inoculants.

"Really happy with this product. I sprinkled Plant Success in the plant hole before planting as specified and sprinkled some on top. My plants bloomed amazingly. I'm not sure how much I can attribute the blooming to Plant Success because I also used Yum Yum Mix, but I continue to use Plant Success as I plant more plants."

Frances in California

Superthrive Vitamin/Hormone Plant Growth Stimulant

This highly concentrated root stimulant greatly improves transplanting success, reduces shock, and revives plants recovering from damage, frost, or heat stress by improving the nutrient uptake of plant roots.

Thoroughly soak the soil in the planting hole after transplanting. Then use it again 2-to-3 times at two week intervals: use at same frequency when reviving stressed or damaged plants. SUPERthrive is not a fertilizer but can be added to liquid fertilizers to improve root uptake of the nutrients. A little goes a long way: mix just 1/4 tsp per gallon of water.

To improve your results, we highly recommend combining Superthrive with Sea Com-PGR liquid seaweed to give plants the synergistic boost that occurs when using the two products together. You'll be astounded at how quickly plants rebound from damage and stress to begin active growth. Available together in our Root Stimulator Combo Pack.

"I have used Superthrive for more than 45 years, on all sorts of flora! It works fantastically!"

Chuck in Illinois

"I LOVE this product! I use it when I water in new or transplanted plants. It is also AMAZING to use for annuals in containers or window boxes that get stressed with too much heat/not enough watering. I had great success reviving my window boxes in Massachusetts this summer (there was a drought) from full-on wilt after vacations when they completely dried out. The boxes look great even now. Seriously, I will ALWAYS use this product. It is also great when transplanting plants from one garden to another (when they wilt from being moved) or if they have been transported (mail-order plants). HIGHLY RECOMMEND!!!!"

Gardener in Massachusetts

Saltwater Farms Sea Com-PGR

This concentrated liquid extract of fresh sea kelp is used to overcome transplant shock, promote root growth, increase resistance to environmental stress, and improve blooming. Saltwater Farms Sea Com-PGR plant food improves fertilizer uptake and should be used to water in dry granular fertilizers like Yum Yum Mix. This has been one of our best product discoveries. We use it on all our nursery and house plants.

Saltwater Farms Sea Com-PGR can be applied either as a foliar spray or watered into the root zone. Add Sea Com-PGR to your watering can when using liquid fertilizers. 

"I use this all year on all of my plants, but my favorite use is on seedlings. Once they get their first or second set of true set of leaves, I water them once every two weeks with Saltwater Farms Sea Com-PGR. It helps them get their roots established and reduces transplant shock. It also doesn't cause seedlings to grow too fast and get leggy."

Lindsey In Colorado

Soil Mender Worm Castings

Fertilize, revive and protect your plants from soil diseases! High quality Soil Mender Worm Castings are an all-natural source of organic matter to add nutrients and improve the moisture-holding capabilities of your soil. Recommended to improve the structure of western soils and heavy clay soil. University research has shown worm castings are exceptional in their ability to naturally revive stressed plants and protect plants from soil-borne diseases without the use of toxic chemical fungicides. Worm castings are also useful in the garden as a mild natural fertilizer. These castings are of the highest quality collected from worms fed high-quality manures, peanut hulls, oak leaves, humate, and other ingredients.

Shop Our Top Picks For Natural Soil Amendments

Planting Tips

Planting Into Existing Flower Beds

Use small amounts of each amendment listed below in individual planting holes.


Preparing New Flower Beds or Planting In Unamended Soil

The following soil amendments should be added to loosen the soil and add nutrients. Loosen and work in the amendments to a depth of 12”.

• Plant Success Mineral Boost

• Yum Yum Mix®

• Plant Success Mycorrhizal Root Inoculant

• Compost
Add good quality, thoroughly rotted compost to the soil at the rate of 1⁄2 to 1 cu. yd. per 100 sq. ft. of bed area or a generous handful to each planting hole. Some compost is more concentrated than others and should be used according to the label’s directions.

Additional Resources

For more information about identifying your garden's soil type, soil testing, and finding the right plants for your growing conditions, see our guide: The Dirt On Garden Soil Testing For Drainage, Soil Type, and pH.

Soil drainage is a very important factor to consider when planting some of our most popular waterwise plants, such as Salvia, Agastache, Lavender, Penstemon, and other perennials that like "well-drained" soil. Learn more about How To Create Well-Drained Soil.