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Good Dirt Don't Hurt! Best Natural Soil Improvements

Soil Prep Guide

Drainage is everything with drought tolerant gardens! But there are a number of micro and trace nutrients you can add to ensure a long lasting and healthy environment for you plants. Read on for our favorite soil building hacks! 


Drought tolerant gardens in general require excellent drainage. Drought tolerant plants are highly susceptible to root rot caused by water logged soils, particularly in warm or hot times of year.

Water logged soil is the most common cause of death for drought tolerant plants (house plants too!). Drought tolerant and native plants most often naturally occur in rocky or sandy soils where sharp drainage guarantees water passing quickly over their roots. If it sits it over saturates them and causes serious diseases.

  Ultimate Soil Drainage Recipe


Most Excellent Soil Drainage Recipes:

Choose the one that's most to your liking!
  • Add 1 bag of cactus soil for every 50 square feet of garden (depending on how compacted your soil is...can you dig a hole easily? no? then add a little more). Mix it into the top 2-4" of dirt (click here to SHOP cactus soil) 
  • Add up to 1 yards of sharp gravel for every 100 sq.ft. of soil. If your dirt is really clay dense  (learn how to tell) mix it into the top 6" to 1'. You can get bulk materials delivered from gold gravel in 5/8th is our favorite! 
  • Mulch the surface of your soil with 2-3" depth of gravel, rock or decomposed granite and don't bother mixing it in if you're low on steam. 

Any form of mulch helps with drainage for your plants! We recommend a gravel or DG (decomposed granite) finish for succulents and cactus...native gardens love it to! Leafpost and wood chips or bark are much better for trees and herbs. Natives and succulents don't mind them either. 

Keep in mind gravel is a little harder to weed...Improving soil fertility helps to improve drainage too! By encouraging micro-organisms... read on for more: 



California native plants generally prefer little to no fertility additives to the soil. HOWEVER most of our properties soils have been compacted by heavy machinery, eroded by sudden torrential rains or otherwise not touched in a decade or 10 from a fertility-stance.

Here's the additives we recommend for every garden for ultimate long-term success:  




Microbially Active Compost - SHOP - organic, biodynamic, microbially, bacterially or fungi active. Any of those hippie sounding terms mean good LIVING compost! That's what we want. Soil life is key to easy plant life and minimal maintenance. If you make it yourself with your eggshells & food waste scraps all the better. This is the meat and potatoes for your garden. Packing lots of nutrients. If you're an experienced gardener, you're probably used to adding compost already.  

Worm Castings - SHOP - You cannot add too much. Worm castings are like instant loam (aka topsoil, the most endangered natural resource on the planet)...or, shall we say, the salad for your garden? Every plant loves them and every yard needs them. The priciest of amendments, they also contain a ton of soil life and good micro things. I bag per 100 sq.ft. of garden is a generous amount. You can do more for fruit trees and 1/2 - 1/4 of that for cacti and succulents. 

Azomite - SHOP - The multivitamin for dirt. Azomite stands for A to Z and includes every trace element that probably leached out of your soil 50 years ago. It's affordable and only small amounts are required (follow application rates on box). You can add it to the surface of already existing gardens/plants too!

Mychorrizae - SHOP - This is the secret magic to soil health. Mychorrizal funghi or inoculants activate the soil food web, helping your plants roots establish colony's of teeny tiny beneficial organisms that literally farm the nutrients your plants need and crave. Mychorrizae also help important fungal (aka mushroom) networks establish in the soil to move excess nutrients, water and air between all of the plants in your garden.  

Mychorrizae are conventionally used in the hydroponic or marijuana farming industries. However you can simply scratch them into your soils surface and let nature (or your irrigation system) do the activation for a slower release [As opposed to dissolving them and injecting them into drip lines]. 


Mulching with organic materials (leaf-post, woodchip, straw, etc.) is the best amendment for most gardens excepting cactus. Learn all about the easiest ways to get mulch materials by clicking here.

If there is a significant alteration in pH that needs to be made before planting (by adding sulfur or oyster shell flour) do that before mulching.


For conventional fruit trees and heavier food producing gardens its best to really amp the soil fertility. Don't be shy with conventional forms of compost or fertilizer. 

If Your Plants Are Ever Sick... 

STEP 1: Reduce water (*if it's a drought tolerant or native plant*). This includes citrus and avocado trees. If your plants roots don't get a chance to dry out between waterings they are extremely susceptible to fungal sickness. 

If you think your soil drainage might still be a problem (does the soil surface crack when it gets dried out, or is the soil sticky when wet?) puncture the ground every 3-4" around the plants base with a long screw driver to help aerate. 

STEP 2: Compost tea is an excellent treatment for any new garden. Compost tea is an aerated extract of healthy compost that kickstarts soil's health and ensures newly planted gardens have enough nutrition to establish easily. Compost tea is especially useful in cases of prior or current soil disease or infestation. It's like Vitamin C for plants. And is especially helpful as a foliar spray. 

Compost Tea bags: shop here. Large-scale Foliar Providers: Compost Tea Guy 

Annnd then there's Australian Plants...

Australia has its own special ways. And the soil is one of them. DO NOT put conventional fertilizer on Australian plants (Grevillea, Westringia, Woolly Bush, etc.). Australia just doesn't have a lot of phosphorous in its soil and plants from this country don't like it. 

Why is my Grevillea turning yellow?

If you're Australian plants turn yellow, add chelated iron (click here to SHOP) Many Australian plants get anemic in North American soils. That is, they have trouble up taking iron. Apply it 2x a year or so. You can try it on other yellowing plants on your garden to to see if it helps!  

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