According to Southern Living Magazine, hard soil can be softened by laying mulched organic matter, such as pine needles, bark, leaves, compost or cow manure, on top of the soil. Organic matter helps to soften the soil by binding clay bits together, which in turn improves moisture drainage. Soil can also be loosened with the application of gypsum, a form of calcium sulfate that creates extra space for plant roots.
In addition to organic matter and gypsum, there are also commercial soil conditioners that contain electrolytes, nutrients and trace elements that help to soften and release natural nutrients in the soil. Soil softeners also help to correct unbalanced pH levels in the soil as well as remove salt.
Once the soil is softened and functioning properly, it is important for gardeners to maintain the soil's moisture with weekly watering. The amount of irrigation needed depends on the specific type of soil. Generally, healthy soil should be wet at least 5 inches down. If the water runs off of the soil or forms puddles, this points to unbalanced water distribution. Extraction of soil cores or sinking a garden shovel into the soil are easy ways for gardeners to determine if the water is evenly distributed and penetrating the soil properly.