Sunday, October 26, 2008

Gathering a soil sample

Here is some information on testing your soil from the Home Depot Garden Club newsletter. I would use the extension service to analyze the sample, but I still find it helpful:

Collecting a soil sample is simple — though attention to detail is necessary.

Materials: Collect the following equipment and make sure everything is cleaned of previous soil: bucket, trowel or small shovel, small container (a recycled yogurt or margarine tub will do), newsprint.

In any given planting area, dig five holes that are six-to-eight inches in depth. (Conduct separate tests for vegetable patch, lawn, flowerbed, under rosebushes, etc.) Slide your trowel into the edge of a hole to remove a full-depth sliver of soil about a half-inch thick. Repeat for all holes.
Mix up the soil in the bucket, then spread it out to dry on the newsprint. Collect the soil in the pint container for testing.

Conduct soil test per package directions. Repeat for each garden section.

Testing your soil is easy. Amending it takes a little bit more effort but will provide dividends in the form of better vegetable and fruit yields, more profuse blooms, and a healthier, more thriving garden next year.

Soil solutions
So, your soil test results are in. Now what? Here's what to make of your results and the appropriate corrections.

High pH (alkaline soil): Mix sulfur into the soil.

Low pH (acidic soil): Mix lime into the soil thoroughly.

High nitrogen: Cut back on the plant food. Put plants on a water-only diet for a few months.

Low nitrogen: Add nitrogen-rich plant food per the manufacturer instructions.

High phosphorus: Cut back on phosphorus-rich fertilizer for a couple of years. "Use up" excess phosphorus by heavily planting the flowerbed.

Low phosphorus: Add bone meal or a superphosphate product, per manufacturer directions.

High potassium: Skip potassium-rich plant food blends for two years, and add a phosphorus- and nitrogen-rich plant food to balance out the soil a bit.

Low potassium: Mix in potash or wood ashes (except around plants that like acidic soil).

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