Pay Dirt

Might as well start the early gardening months by paying attention to the one thing that makes or breaks any garden — the soil. It’s amazing how fast a garden’s potential can be ruined by spending lots of money on beautiful plants and skimping on building good soil. “Don’t put a $25 plant in a $1 hole” is the truth. You can put an expensive plant in poor soil and watch it die, or you can put an OK plant in healthy soil and watch it flourish. This is the big secret behind the legendary “green thumb.”

The Squeeze Test

Testing your garden’s soil texture to find out whether if you’re wasting your plant money is easy and prevents all kinds of future problems and disappointments. Grab a handful of soon-to-be-planted garden soil, and squeeze it.

1. If the soil falls apart, it’s too sandy. Add a lot of compost.

2. If it sticks together, it has too much clay. Add a lot of compost, or even better, build a raised bed. It’s quicker and easier.

3. If it crumbles and partially stays together, rejoice! It’s perfect.

Your Perfect Plants

Now that you have good dirt, it’s time to finally pick the perfect plants. Not only the plants you like, but also those that will grow where you want them. Sound obvious? That’s another green thumb “secret” — picking the right plant for the right place.

Two of the most complete reference sites for plant information and plant buying are (Seattle) and (Portland). 

‘Good Soil’

Foisting a sepia-toned “in the weeds” book about soil and compost into today’s mix of glossy garden books and websites is a brave step. The authors of Good Soil-Manure Compost and Nourishment for Your Garden decided to plunge ahead anyway, and we benefited. Thanks to Tina Raman, Ewa-Marie Rundquist, and Justine Lagache for doing this dirty work.

Good Soil is a treasure trove of nerdy explanations and practical information. Everything from chemistry and biology to history and philosophy of “natural” fertilizer is covered. And of course, they make it funny. The subject begs for it.

After you’re knee-deep in the wonders of poop, you get the last half of the book — what and how much of it is the best for your plants.

Published by Frances Lincoln,
Sweden, 250 pages, $29.99



“Dirty Dan” is Vickie Haushild, a gardener at heart. She owned and operated a garden shop for 23 years. Now she owns and operates a garden tool and supply website, She has a passion for beautiful gardens in the South Sound, and the dedicated gardeners who tend them.

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