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Sieving soil in flower beds

Hi all,

im an new member and new gardener.
I’ve recently had my garden paved with sections remaining clear for flower beds. The soil in these beds are full of stones so I was planning on sieving the soil in these beds with an electric powered sieve I created which works pretty well.
Since the paved area has been raised, my new beds don’t have enough soil in them. I have tried to find out a bit more about what soil to add but this has caused more confusion than answers. 
My sieve removes all stones down to about 5mm and the soil that remains is fairly fine. Some forum answers have suggested the need for some stones to aid in drainage. Is this correct. Should I add some of the filtered stones back into the sieved soil?
Also, should I try to compact the sieved soil before planting anything?
Also, to top up the soil in these beds to the level of the paving, what soil should I go for? Some companies in London offer premium top soil. Would this be a good choice? Or should I buy compost?

apologies for the basic questions. I’m fairly clueless about gardening but want to begin with a good base in the flower beds.

Thanks in advance for any advice. 


  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 29,139
    Well done for rigging up a soil sifter to shift th ebigegst stones.

    The best thing you can add to your soil to bulk it up is plenty of well-rotted garden compost and/or well rotted manure which will open up th esoil structure and also feed the micro-organisms, invertebrates and worms that make your soil healthy.    You can buy this from a good DIY centre (cheaper than a garden centre) or a bulk supplier which is cheaper still - assuming you don't have any to hand.

    Adding grit to soil to improve drainage is advised for heavy clay soils that need breaking up so allow for some drainage so plant roots  don't sit in puddles and drown.  Laying on good thick layers of compost every autumn will also help worms and so on to improve the structure of clay soils.
    Vendée - 20kms from Atlantic coast.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • Thank you for this advice.
    Can I ask how I would know if I have clay soil? Is there some test I can do? 
    The soil in my garden just looks like standard soil to me, if there is such a thing.
    I’m in south west London (Teddington), is this a clay area?
  • LoxleyLoxley Posts: 5,236
    edited September 2019
    If your soil is clay, damp soil will easily form a ball that holds together. A ball formed from normal loamy soil will form a ball but will crumble apart, the more sandy it is, the harder it will be to form a ball. 

    You may have clay subsoil underneath the cultivated topsoil.

    I wouldn't really bother with sieving the soil unless it's extremely stony. It's hard to comment without seeing the soil in question.

    Sieving it may adversely affect the soil structure, and you definitely shouldn't be compacting it.
  • If it's clay it's rock hard and digs out in a hard lump which is impossible to break down 
  • steephillsteephill Posts: 2,675
    I think Teddington is mainly sandy loam with some patches of clay. There is an app called MySoil which gives useful soil type info over a map. A basic test is to take a handful of soil and make it into a ball like you would make a snowball. If it makes a sticky solid ball like plasticene then it is probably clay. Sandy loam will crumble easily.
  • pansyfacepansyface Posts: 21,902
    edited September 2019
    Unless the stones are as big as your fist, I would be very hesitant about removing them.

    Imagine this. You take a kitchen sieve and fill it full of flour. You take another sieve and fill it full of nuts. You pour the same amount of water into each sieve. You wait five minutes.

    Which sieve is clogged and sticky? Which sieve has drained and is easy to clean?

    Stones help to keep air in the soil. They really do a fantastic job of keeping the soil friable and sweet smelling.

    Don’t be too keen to take them out and then have to put them back.
    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
    If you live in Derbyshire, as I do.
  • LoxleyLoxley Posts: 5,236
    Agree with that Pansy. 

  • fidgetbonesfidgetbones Posts: 16,687
    I take out anything bigger than my fist when I am forking over or digging holes to plant big things. Everything else I leave. I add as much compost as I can every year.
  • This is great advice. Thank you to all. 
    I’ll take a photo and add it to this thread. Maybe that would be better than me trying to describe with my very limited garden knowledge. 
    I’ll also perform the snowball test advised here.
    i can also change the mesh size on my sieve. Maybe it’s a bit small. I didn’t think of checking with any forums before buying it from Wickes. 
    Although, the compost I have bought in the past never had any stones in it. Are they necessary or just not a problem requiring removal. 
  • pansyfacepansyface Posts: 21,902
    If you are wanting to take cuttings or grow seeds in trays, then you don’t want stones to be in there, getting in the way of root development. Compost often contains grit, which is not the same as stones.

    The sieves that you see in garden centres are for making it easier for seedlings and cuttings to grow in garden soil.

    Once the seedlings or cuttings have got roots and are ready to be planted outside, they can find their own way around the stones in the big wide world.
    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
    If you live in Derbyshire, as I do.
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