When a client is having a problem with a plant, be it flower or vegetable, the problem usually begins in the soil. There’s too little or too much of something in the soil causing the plant to be malnourished and out of balance. As a Master Gardener, I always recommend a yearly soil test for established gardens, definitely one before starting a new garden and a closer look at the soil if a new problem plant problem crops up. Having a soil test done is a new idea for many gardeners and they don’t know what to expect. In addition to providing you with a lot of detailed information about what your soil contains, a soil test will inform you of what amendments you need to add for best results with plant life.
This tests result will tell whether your soil is acid, alkaline or neutral. None of the three soil types are bad, just select plants that grow well in your particular soil type for best results. The pH level can be changed, however it will take time and a lot of effort. Lots of lime will raise the pH level and adding copious amounts of sulfur will lower the pH, but it’s easy to be more choosy in plant selections.
The test will reveal how much nitrogen is in the soil. Nitrogen is needed to promote plant growth and a fertilizer containing nitrogen is usually added before and during the growing season. However, if soil has too much nitrogen plants will grow an abundance of foliage but few flowers or vegetables.
Phosphorus and Potassium
Two more nutrients plants need to thrive and your soil may have too much or too little, the test will let you know.
We don’t think about the salt in our garden soil, but it’s there and sometimes in an amount that’s too high to promote healthy plant growth. Excess soluble salt in garden soil indicates over-use of fertilize. Cut back on fertilize and the salt amount will correct itself.
Calcium, Magnesium and Sulfur
Most soils have just the right amount of these three nutrients, but if there’s a deficiency the soil test will reveal it.
All County Extension agents and Master Gardeners will advise you to add organic matter to your garden. Compost, well-rotted cow manure or leaves, humus, peat, and other organic matter will prevent soil compaction, help soil retain water and improves the structure of the soil by adding nutrients and attracting beneficial worms and insects.
Gather soil from several location within your garden plot or landscape and place in a zip-top bag to be tested. About 5 tablespoons is usually enough and will be mixed together to and tested to provide an average of what your soil is comprised of and what you need to amend it with for optimum growing results.