The summer season in New York is full of gardens that are bursting at the seams. There's one new item, however, that could help every plant grow better.

For the sixth year in a row, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is asking local gardeners to do something very strange: plant their underwear. While the suggestion sounds more like a bad April Fool's prank than real advice, there's actually a very good reason behind the idea.

Photo of garden beds with hands holding underwear superimposed
There's a very special reason why the USDA is encouraging gardeners to bury their underwear (Los Muertos Crew/Tatyana Aksenova via Canva)

The USDA's "Soil Your Undies" Program

The campaign, aptly named "soil your undies" originally began in the state of Oregon in 2018. Since then, the challenge has spread to other states across the country in an effort to promote soil health.

Why New Yorkers Should Bury Their Underwear in the Garden

"We asked you to join the soil your undies challenge. If you choose to accept the challenge, here are some pro tips for the best results", began a recent Facebook post from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (below). The 60-day challenge is meant to illustrate how many microbes are active in local dirt.

The idea behind the "soil your undies" challenge focuses on how quickly cotton fabric will be broken down by microbes in the soil. Images (below) show the drastic difference between "planting" underwear in microbe-rich soil versus a fertilized lawn.

A woman holding underwear that has disintegrated after burying it in her garden
Photos show how much cotton underwear has disintegrated over 60 days in a no-till garden (L) and a fertilized grass lawn (R) (

The underwear test, the USDA explains, will show how many microbes are active in the soil. The more the undies have been broken down, the healthier the soil will be for vegetables, flowers, and other plants. Here are the steps:

Photo of cotton underwear after they have been buried in a garden to test soil health
This chart shows how buried underwear can help show the health of your garden soil (

June is the last month advised for underwear planting (before soil becomes too dry), so interested gardeners should start their project immediately. "Plant" the 100% cotton underwear vertically in the ground with the elastic band sticking up above the earth, and leave for at least 60 days. Then, "pick" them from your garden and see how active your local microbes have been (above).

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Does this project work with any cotton fabric? Yes. Is it as fun? Absolutely not. After you've tested your soil with tighty-whities, see how else you can help your garden by learning about new York's worst invasive plants below.

New York State's Invasive Plants To Be On The Lookout For

These seven invasive plants have become a nuisance to the wildlife and people living in New York State. Learn more about them and how to remove them at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation here.

Watch Out For These 5 Dangerous Invasive Pests In New York State

Gallery Credit: Yasmin Young