Ask a Master Gardener: First things first…test your soil

Before planting, test your soil to see what nutrients it needs and to determine its pH levels.

(Posted March 18, 2021)

Right now, before gardening is in full swing, is the best time to do a soil test. You will have the results back in time for most of the planting to be done this season and will know exactly what your soil needs for maximum productivity.

Why do a soil test? A soil test will provide information about the nutrients currently in your soil and, more importantly, what is needed. This is valuable both for growing lush gardens and for thick healthy lawns. It could very well pay for itself in money saved on unneeded fertilizers because you will know exactly what is needed. No more applying a little of this “just in case” or some of that because “I always do.”

You will also be able to match soil pH (a measure of acidity) to the appropriate plants. Most soils in Madison County are somewhat alkaline. Plants that prefer a more acidic environment (such as azaleas) will not thrive in alkaline soil and should be eliminated from consideration. Blueberries also prefer acidic soil so, rather than planting blueberries in the garden, Madison County gardeners should choose a variety of blueberries bred for growing in containers. It will be much easier to control the soil pH in a container than in the garden bed.

Frequently, a soil test will offer information as to why a particular plant failed to thrive. For example, yellowing, or chlorosis of a plant’s leaves, can often be diagnosed by a soil test. Armed with knowledge, you can apply exactly the right nutrient(s) for improved growth.

How do you do a soil test? It’s easy and reasonably quick. Call the Madison County Extension Office at (740) 852-0975 and ask about obtaining the test kit(s) and about information as to where the soil samples should be sent. Follow the instructions that come with the kit as closely as possible, using one kit per growing area. Mail them in, along with the small testing fee, and wait. When your results are returned, examine them closely, then call the Extension Office again to set up an appointment to talk to the Extension agent or the Extension educator about interpreting the results. That’s it!

Here is a very helpful website that will give you complete instructions and more reasons to do soil testing: Test before you grow. This is one test you cannot fail!

This column is written by the Madison County Master Gardeners. Watch for details about their new Ask A Master Gardener Help Line, coming soon.

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