Blue shovel digging in the dirt.

Amendments invigorate garden soils

Wyoming soil can present some challenges in soil type, pH, fertility levels, electrical conductivity (salt in the soil) and moisture.

There are some easy and inexpensive ways to amend soil for a successful vegetable garden. Start with a soil test and know exactly what is needed. A soil test kit can be picked up at your county extension office or from the Colorado State University soils lab. The CSU address is Colorado State University Soil, Water and Plant Testing Laboratory, Room A320, Natural and Environmental Sciences Building, Colorado State University, Fort Collins CO 80523. Its web address is

Wyoming native soils tend toward the alkaline side of the scale with pH around 7.5 and higher. This higher pH tends to tie up plant nutrients, which may reduce crop yields. Vegetables like soil more acidic with a pH of 6.5 to 6.0, which is difficult to achieve without a lot of amendments like peat moss or sulfur. Peat moss has a pH around 5.5 to 4.5 and is a great vegetable garden amendment.

Leaves, grass clippings, coffee grounds (filter, too), kitchen vegetable scrapes, pulp from juicing – all make great soil amendments. They help increase soil organic matter, add fertility, help loosen hard soils, and give sandy soils more structure. They are a form of all-season, slow release fertilizer, which is best for growing vegetables. You can direct bury the scraps for cold composting and feed the worms, or you can do regular composting.

Adding manures to the garden soil can cause short-term and long-term soil problems. The references of being too “hot” is caused by the salt content, not the nitrogen content, of manure. Manure will also have weed seeds along with the risk to plant and people pathogens like E. coli, even if it’s been composted for a year. I don’t recommend using manures in western soil vegetable gardens.

Soil should only be worked when dry. Working soil when wet risks compaction and a net loss of organic matter. Soil compaction is very difficult to overcome and will take a lot of non-manure compost to undo. Add organic matter every time you work the soil, and only work the soil a couple times to make it ready to plant. Excessive tilling just breaks down the soil.

Catherine Wissner is the University of Wyoming Extension Laramie County horticulturist and can be reached at (307) 633-4480 or at

Transforming decrepit ground into dynamic soil

Want to know more about soils for successful gardening in Wyoming?

University of Wyoming Extension educators and specialists answer questions from the public and discuss the many ingredients that help turn wimpy ground into robust soil.

This recorded Facebook Live presentation is by the Barnyards and Backyard small acreage project. Go to

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