Are you getting ready to grow your first-ever garden? If so, there are probably many questions swirling around in your head:
- Does my soil have any problems?
- Will my plants need fertilizer?
- What type of fertilizer will I need to use?
- How much fertilizer will I need to apply?
- Will I need to add compost to my garden?
There are two ways to go about answering these questions. You can wing it like an amateur, or you can conduct a comprehensive soil test. The latter is an inexpensive and easy-to-perform method that can answer the above questions, as well as provide you vital additional details.
What Can A Soil Test Tell Me?
A soil test can tell you exactly what you need to grow a prosperous garden. What you must understand is that gardens are grown in a multitude of different soil types. As a result, the exact needs of soil differ from one garden to the next.
If you fail to identify the exact needs of your garden, you could end up creating improper imbalances that harm it. For instance, too much nitrogen-based fertilizer could end up killing your plants. Likewise, too little pH could kill them as well.
Below is a list of the exact things a soil test can tell you:
- The pH level of your soil.
- The fertility level of key nutrients.
- The amount of lime you need to add.
- The types of nutrients you need to add.
- The type and quantity of fertilizer you need to add.
Here’s the thing to realize: a soil test can’t resolve everything. It won’t tell you which crops to grow. It won’t stop plants from dying due to problems like disease, drought, insects and too much water. It also cannot replace basic garden skills. It is however a great first step toward growing a quality garden.
Which Part Of A Soil Test Is Most Important?
All parts of a soil test play important roles, but truthfully, the pH level is the one that plays the biggest role.
A soil’s pH level is a measure of its acidity or alkalinity on a scale between 0 and 14. The optimal pH level for an average garden is between 5 and 7. Soil with a really low pH level does a poor job releasing nutrients. Likewise, soil with a really low pH level does an even worse job releasing nitrogen.
Most average fruits and vegetables — broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, horseradish, mushroom, peppermint, potato, sage, turnip — grow in the 5 to 7 range. Things get complicated only when dealing with unusual food items or when trying to grow mass quantities of a certain fruit or vegetable.
How Do I Perform A Soil Test?
- To conduct a soil test, you will first need a lab within your area. The next step entails simply collecting samples. Below are basic guidelines for this:
- Make certain you divide your garden into areas based on observable traits like soil color. There should also be a different section for every type of plant. This means that the part of the garden that currently has roses growing in it should be separated from a part that’s currently empty.
- Avoid sampling problem areas like wet spots, burn piles and sand boils.
- Try to use a proper sampling tool like an auger. Only use a shovel or trowel if it is absolutely necessary.
- Send the sample off to your chosen laboratory as quickly as possible.
- Thoroughly read the test results. If you have any questions, contact the lab and ask them to interpret the results for you.