Whenever I’m diagnosing a plant problem on the radio or face-to-face, my first question is usually, have you done a soil test? The answer is almost always “no”, which is a shame, because many plant problems can be easily rectified if one only knew the condition of their soil.
For starters, you must know the pH of the soil. The pH is a relative range, from 0 –14, which measures the acidity or alkalinity. A reading below 7.0 indicates an acidic soil, while readings above 7.0 are alkaline. Most plants grow best in a range of 6.0 –7.0.
Next, you should understand why a soil analysis is important to having a healthy lawn and garden. In order for plants to thrive, they need certain levels of nutrients. Many of these are found naturally in the native soil. However, there are major and minor, as well as micronutrients that are all used by plants in various quantities. The soil analysis will tell you the levels of these nutrients found in your soil.
Knowing the pH and nutrient levels are both important. You can have the perfect balance of nutrients, but if the pH level is outside the range of preference for what you are growing, many of the nutrients will be unavailable because the plants will not be able to absorb them. Conversely, if you have the perfect pH, but lack the appropriate nutrients, your plants will perform below their potential.
Soil tests are available from a number of sources. You can purchase kits from a garden center, online, or through mail order sources. However, none compare in quality or accuracy to the results you get through your county extension service. For the money, the best value comes from these.
A soil analysis conducted by the extension service is more comprehensive as well. The report includes a reading of the soil pH, and measures the major and minor nutrient levels. One of the best features of this report is that it also provides the suggested amounts and type of nutrients to add to your existing soil to bring into optimal levels for growing the plants or crops you have specified.