When should I fertilize? How much should I fertilize? Which fertilizers should I use? What do the numbers on fertilizer mean? Many gardeners and homeowners will frantically apply fertilizer to the yard. Or they will randomly throw fertilizer on the garden. The more the better. The sooner the better. If a little is good, more is better!
Whooow. Back-up the horses! Take a deep breath, and have the soil tested. Don’t guess, get a test!
What a soil test will tell? Soil tests determine the nutrients in the soil and levels of those nutrients. If a nutrient is too high, the plants may suffer because they cannot take up or ‘bind’ other nutrient.
Likewise, if a nutrient is too low in the soil, plant nutrition will not be adequate and the plant growth or crop from the plant will suffer.
A soil testing lab is best suited to determine the nutrient needs of the soil. The test results will indicate what needs to be added to the soil, and the amounts that should be added.
So how do I get soil tested?
Soil test - Steps for an accurate soil test.
1. Get a clean, dry container to carry with you into the garden.Reading the results of a soil test.
2. With a clean trowel, soil probe,or auger and remove 6” – 8” deep of soil in 6 – 8 well-spaced sections of the area that is being tested.
3. Deposit these 6 – 8 scoops into the container and mix them together.
4. In a sample bag provided by the lab or a clean plastic sandwich bag, label the area of the garden on the bag. This is important especially if more than one area is being tested. (i.e. – lawn, perennial border, vegetable garden).
5. The lab I use, Spectrum Analytic has a form to be sent in with the soil sample. They ask what the ‘crop’ is that will be growing in this area – and they have codes for such things as cool season turf, ornamentals, garden, fruit, perennials, roses, grapes, and others. Be as specific as possible, to get the analysis that will enhance the soil requirements in your lawn or garden. Mail the sample by UPS or USPS. I usually get a padded envelope to send the bag(s) of soil in along with the spec sheet(s) which can be downloaded online for most labs.
The results are very easy to understand. The results will tell you if you need to add any certain element, and the amount per 100 s/f, or 1000 s/f, or per acre. Determining the space of your test area is a multiplication of the length times the width, in feet, for square feet. (i.e. 10’ x 30’ = 300 s/f).
One other piece of information the soil test will tell is the soil pH. This will be difficult to modify, but choosing plants that like the conditions will be happier.
When choosing the amendments to supplement the soil, take the soil analysis to the garden center with you. Or advise your lawn care provider of the results. Both resources will aid you in applying the needed nutrient for a successful lawn and garden.
Fees range from $15 – near $50, depending on the detailed analysis you choose. Believe me, the cost of amendments that are not needed can cost a lot more. And randomly throwing fertilizer onto the soil could be doing more harm than good. Local extension offices and garden centers should be able to give a list of labs in your area. Check with local universities also.
It’s early spring, do the soil test now for a great growing season.