Testing the soil on a yearly basis is important for productive gardening. Poor soils, or soils that are not appropriate for a particular species of plant will always bring a lower than expected yield to next year’s harvest. There are many different ways to analyze soil. Hiring a professional is certainly one way to do it. In today’s ‘do-it-yourself’ world, more people are testing their own garden soils.
When to Test
The best time to check the nutrients, the porosity and the acidity-alkalinity (pH) of any soil is once the growing season is over and the harvest is complete. Before sowing your seeds in the spring is another good time to check certain soil factors.
Turning the soil over increases its porosity and allows for water to permeate the ground more readily. This permits plants to receive needed water without over-saturating the ground and also allows the plants the space necessary to fully grow. Turning the soil and adding some fresh soil is important and needs to be done just before planting season. Test the new soil before adding it to the ground.
What to Test
• Checking the Texture and Structure of Soil: The structure of the soil is determined by a combination of sand, silt and clay which all refer to particle size that make up soil texture. The proper mixture will provide you with a soil that easily crumbles, yet holds together when squeezed. Clay sticks together and has a low permeability and porosity that tends to deter drainage. The appropriate mix will contain enough large sand and moderate size silt particles. Select a handful in your test area. See how it crumbles and responds when wet. Common sense is your best test. A good soil allows for good drainage, enough pores to contain oxygen and microbial activity. If the soil does not hold together, there is too much sand or too many silt size particles. If there is too much compaction, then there is too much clay in the mix.
• Check Color: Dark soils are usually rich in nutrients, while light brown soils are indicative of heavily leached soil and clay content.
• Check pH of soil at different spots according to what you intend to plant: pH is the measure of hydrogen ion activity of any substance, with this being a measure of acidity or alkalinity. Home test kits will provide a color chart that shows a scale of 1-14. Number 7 on the test scale reads neutral, while the lower the number, the more acidic the soil and the higher the more alkaline. Different plants require a different degree of acidity or alkalinity; that is why it is vital to test each area of your garden. If soil is too acidic, add lime. If it is too alkaline then add sulfur.
Where to Get Soil Testing Kits
Most hardware, lawn and garden shops and stores that sell products for the home have a variety of soil testing kits available for the home gardener. It is good to do the test yourself as you can ‘see’ what the tests are showing for your garden. When you receive results from a professional service, you obtain your information from an outside source. Professional testing does not allow for ‘hands-on’ experience and overall learning about something that is important to you.
When your garden is vital to you, it is best to know exactly what it needs to grow and thrive. When your various types of gardens are tested and cared-for appropriately, they will produce more flowers and food supplies, in addition to having a more colorful and healthy appearance. A garden requires a lot of work in the establishment phase as well as the various maintenance stages, so you really want it to be as grand as possible. Soil testing will allow you to stand back and view your garden with both pride and pleasure.