All gardeners know that their plants are only as healthy as the garden soil, so it is important to conduct a soil test to determine if any amendments or other steps are needed to grow healthy, productive plants. Measuring the content of the soil is not difficult and is essential for beautiful and bountiful garden.
Most plants prefer a specific type of soil, such as azaleas that prefer a slightly acidic soil. Other plants, like geraniums, thrive in soils with less acidity. To ensure the plants a gardener chooses to grow have the best soil for their needs, gardeners must select the right plants for the soil or amend the soil to for specific plants.
A soil test determines the pH of the soil, which measures acidity. Depending on the results, the gardener can choose plants the grow well in the soil available or amend it to accommodate desired plants. Soils with a high pH are alkaline; however, gardeners can lower the pH by mixing some sulfur into new planting beds or around existing plants. A low pH means the soil is acidic, and adding lime to the soil and mixing it in well raises the pH level,
The best time for gardeners to test the soil is in the late fall or early spring. Testing at this time of year gives the gardener time to make any necessary adjustments before planting the garden. Some amendments to the soil require a few weeks to become effective. Wet soil samples can give gardeners a false reading, so soil samples for testing should be taken when soil is fairly dry.
Most garden centers and hardware stores carry a variety of soil testing kits. Some kits may only test the pH, while others test for pH and nutrients. Soil test kits are inexpensive and relatively accurate. The key to getting the best results is to collect a good sample and follow kit instructions carefully. Testing the soil more than once can help a gardener verify results.
Soil test kits that include both pH and nutrients test for essential nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Once a gardener has the soil test results, he or she can take steps to correct nutrient deficiencies or abundances. Testing the soil and making necessary adjustments can save a gardener from making a garden planning mistake. A soil test can also save money and time by preventing gardeners from choosing the wrong plants.