Plants, when it comes down to it, are pretty simple. They want sunlight to bask in, water to drink, oxygen to inhale and enough nutrients to keep ‘em going.
But what if it seems like you’re doing everything right, yet your plants are still struggling?
That’s what happened to Benita in Texas.
She said, “The soil in my property–really gunky, black, hard and sticky–is not very conducive to grow! Is there something, not too expensive, that I can do to treat it or at least portions of it?"
Let’s dig up some dirt and get to the bottom of how you can improve your soil.
Soil Tests: When to Do Them, What Information You Learn and Who Performs Them
When should I do a soil test?
- You haven’t done one in three years.
- You just moved into a new place and don’t know much about the soil.
- Your plant is struggling, and you suspect it may not have enough nutrients.
- You want to see if the amendments you added had an impact.
- You’re going to drastically expand your garden in three to six months and want to make sure your new plants perform well.
When is the best time to do a soil test?
If you suspect a problem, do it asap. It is easiest to do when the soil is not frozen. That way, you can begin to make changes as soon as you have the results.
Then, give the soil time to recalibrate. It can take a lot of effort to change poor soil. So, be patient and stick with it!
Who does soil testing?
If you need the results immediately, grab a soil kit test from your local home and garden store and DIY it.
Or if you can be patient, have a professional handle it because the results (provided by a lab) will often be more accurate and reliable. Many companies will do this for you as will your local Extension office.
Whether you buy a kit, go with a company or utilize your Extension office, it’ll be about the same cost (around $10).
But at Davey, we test the soil pH and do a soluble salt test for free. If you’d like something more in-depth, that will require additional fees. But since you only do soil tests every few years, it’s typically worth the extra investment.
What information does a soil test give you?
All the information you could ever want! Basic soil tests pinpoint the amount of organic matter, the pH and the level of macronutrients (nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K)).
These standard tests only provide information on soil characteristics. That means they do not test for pollutants, pesticides or other potentially toxic compounds.
More advanced soil tests can detail more information–like your soil texture (whether it’s sand, silt or clay). You can also learn more about the levels of micronutrients–and there are a lot of those–or the biological activity in your soil! Finally, you can measure soil salinity, which is essentially how much salt is present. That’s smart to do if your plants are struggling.
With that info, you can figure out what amendments your soil needs.
Here are some common solutions:
- Add more organic matter (like composted manure) to improve your soil. This almost always helps!
- Most plants like a soil pH between 6 and 7. If your soil pH is too high, add sulfur, peat, or organic mulch. If it’s too low, raise the pH with a product containing lime. Remember: some plants prefer different levels of pH, so check before acting. And, of course, always follow the instructions on the product itself.
- Add a fertilizer containing the nutrients your soil lacks.