Soil Testing Tips

 

Date: March 29th, 2013

Soil condition is one of the essentials of a healthy lawn or garden. Conducting a soil test is an easy and inexpensive way to improve your landscape.

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What Does a Soil Test Do?


Optimal plant growth requires a proper soil pH level. pH is measured on a scale of 1-14 with 7 being neutral, a number below 7 is acidic, and above 7 is alkaline.

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*Depending on the soil's pH level, plants grown, and other environmental factors, the treatment may vary.

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By conducting a soil test, you can determine whether your lawn is neutral, acidic or alkaline. Most plants prefer nearly neutral soil with a pH between 6.2 and 7.2. However, other plants grow best in other conditions. For example:

  •  Azaleas, rhododendrons, and blueberries grow best in acidic soil.
  • Hellebores and clematis perennials thrive in slightly alkaline soil.

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How to Test your Soil


Tools Needed:

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Steps:


1. Thoroughly clean the tools you are using to collect the soil sample.


2. In the planting area, dig five holes 6 to 8 inches deep.


3. Take a ½-inch slice along the side of a hole and place it in the bucket. Repeat this process for all holes.


4. Collect samples from different areas that will be growing similar plants.


5. Mix the soil in the bucket. Spread the soil on a newspaper to dry out. Collect a pint for your sample.


Wet soil can give false readings so be sure the soil is fairly dry when testing. Help eliminate inaccurate results by testing more than once.


Now What?

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Alkaline

If your soil is alkaline, you can lower your soil's pH or make it more acidic by using any of these alternatives: sphagnum peat, elemental sulfur, aluminum sulfate, iron sulfate, acidifying nitrogen, and organic mulches.


An excellent way to lower the pH of small beds or garden areas is the addition of sphagnum peat. (The pH of Canadian sphagnum peat generally ranges from 3.0 to 4.5.) Sphagnum peat is also a good source of organic matter. On small garden plots, add a one to two inch layer of sphagnum peat and work it into the top 8 to 12 inches of soil before planting.

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Acidic

The pH of highly acidic soils can be raised by incorporating limestone into the soil. Hydrated lime works quicker, but accidental over-application is easy to do. Wood ash will also raise the soil pH and make the soil more alkaline. Do not apply wood ash, limestone, hydrated lime, or other liming materials to alkaline soils.


Modifying a soil's pH is usually a slow process and may require repeat treatments. It is often most effective to use a combination of treatments. 

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Have you tested your soil lately?

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Additional Sources: http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/hortnews/1994/4-6-1994/ph.html



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