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Organic Soil Amendments for Backyard Gardeners

Discover some organic soil amendments to make plants stronger and healthier with more abundant harvests every season. Follow these easy tips for great results every time.

A woman holds berries growing from a blackberry bush.

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Today I want to talk about some organic soil amendments that can fertilize the earth, ensure plants have optimal health and growth, and produce larger, healthier harvests.

I have personally experimented with lots of different organic soil amendments. I am not an expert, just a backyard gardener trying her best to enrich the soil, create a biodiverse environment in our yard, and grow some crops while I do it.

But before we get into talking about the specific types of soil amendments, let’s talk about some of the basics.

What are soil amendments and why are they important?

A soil amendment is simply something that will enrich the soil, improving nutrient levels that are so important for plant growth. A soil amendment is added to improve certain qualities in the soil such as the drainage, fertility, texture, and the pH levels. Balance is important in all of these factors for healthy soil.

A woman picks berries in a berry patch.

What makes something an organic soil amendment?

An organic soil amendment comes from a natural, once living source. Some examples include: sawdust, wood ash, bark, grass clippings, straw, compost, and manure.

Benefits to using organic soil amendments:

  • Helps fight plant diseases
  • Reduces water usage
  • Contains safe, natural nutrients 
  • Improves soil structure
  • Balances pH levels
  • Maintains salt levels
Organic soil amendments are shown in a woman's hand as she stands over her garden.

Organic Soil Amendments 

Rabbit Manure

I have not had any luck sourcing any local rabbit manure just yet. But I will say I have heard that rabbit manure is some of the best fertilizer for soil. Rabbit manure is great because it isn’t hot, meaning it doesn’t need to compost first before being used. It is safe to use in a vegetable garden, too. Rabbits are not known to carry pathogens that would directly affect humans. The pellets can easily be sprinkled as a top dressing in garden beds and they will break down fairly quickly to feed the soil rather fast. Add to beds a couple weeks before planting and again midway through the season.

A vegetable gardening bed is shown with crops growing in the organic soil amendments.


Straw acts as a great top dressing mid-season. I add it to garden beds during the summer months to help suppress weeds, create a cleaner looking garden bed, and to feed the soil midway through the gardening season. Just be sure to buy straw and not hay that has seed that will produce more weeds. 

Wood Chips/Bark

I use lots of wood bark as both an aesthetic component and to fertilize the soil around flower and berry bushes, along with the cherry trees around our home. This has worked pretty well so far and tends to break down slower which means it lasts longer. I apply it in the spring and again in late summer to ensure adequate coverage. Another bonus is that it helps with water retention and suppresses weeds.

Berries begin to form on a blackberry plant with wood mulch used as a soil amendment.

Mushroom Compost

I experimented with mushroom compost in my raised beds this gardening season. Mushroom compost is rich in nutrients and works as an excellent top dressing. I applied it 2 weeks before transplanting my seedlings this year and so far, so good. I don’t know if I hardened my seedlings off better this year, just got lucky with milder weather, or if the soil was just healthier. But I had many more survive this year than previous years. They’ve been in their beds for about 4 weeks now and what were once only a few inches tall are now towering high, tied to bamboo sticks, and flowering for pollinators to give them their first fruits. We should have some decent tomatoes and peppers here in a few short weeks.

Cover crops

I will most certainly be adding cover crops (such as clover) to my raised garden beds this fall after the summer garden is done. This is a permaculture practice to regenerate the soil and add nitrogen back in for healthier soil in the spring. Before you plant crops the following season, be sure to trim it back and turn it over in the beds a few weeks before planting.

A packet of crimson clover is shown as an organic soil amendment.

Kitchen Scrap Compost

This is the current method I’ve been using in my vegetable raised beds. I haven’t quite perfected the perfect compost (ratios, moisture levels, heat, etc.) from my tumbler just yet, but I have been able to use the unfinished compost in layers with topsoil in raised garden beds. I bury the unfinished compost deep enough to not resurface or attract pests. And it’s also deep enough to break down with the layers of leaves, sticks, and other “browns” I’ve added in. So far it has kept my soil fertile. 

Basil and tomatoes grow in a raised garden bed.

Some final notes on organic soil amendments

As a final note, there are a few things you’ll want to research in more depth and consider before selecting the right organic soil amendment for your yard and garden. 

Factors to consider in choosing a soil amendment:

  • How quickly it can decompose to improve soil qualities faster
  • pH level of the soil and amendments
  • How long the soil amendment will last in the soil
  • Soil texture and amount of dissolved salts in the soil
Lettuce grows into a ball in a small raised bed.

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