Different soils have different nutrient profiles, some are lacking in nutrients needed to grow certain types of plants. Some soils may be nutrient-rich in the past but the reserves have been depleted after the crops were harvested. For people who grow crops for a living, the soil's nutrient profile has to be assessed prior to planting crops otherwise; all that hard work could go to waste!
Soil testing is a diagnostic tool for determining the nutrient profile and structure of the soil. The test is done by measuring the chemical or physical attributes of the soil as well as the soil’s nutrient status and lime requirements. After assessing the soil, fertilizer and lime recommendations will be given for profitable farming. Soil testing is a critical step in high yield farms but it can be conducted in small gardens too.
Through soil testing, growers could determine the application rates of fertilizers needed to enhance the soil’s nutrient content. Excessive application rates to the soil may do more harm than good. Nutrient applications must be regulated and limited to the proper rates to keep the garden’s ecosystem balanced, which is also one of the reasons why soil testing is an essential step in growing different types of crops.
Reasons Why You Should Test Your Garden Soil
Complete Soil Assessment
One of the most important reasons why you should assess the soil in your garden is to understand what’s in your soil. Again, different soils have different nutrient profiles and conducting soil testing allows you to determine what nutrients your soil lack and what steps should you take to amend it. Soil testing takes the guesswork out of figuring out what application rates to apply to the soil to enjoy maximum yield.
Check the Soil pH
The soil has different pH levels, usually within the 6 to 6.5 range. When the pH level of the soil rises, some nutrients become less available. These nutrients may include phosphorus and iron, which plants need to grow. When the pH level of the soil drops, some soil nutrients may become toxic to plants, which could affect plant life.
Do note that some plants thrive in alkaline soil; others do well in acidic soil. Grasses, flowers, and vegetables are best planted in slightly acidic soil, about 6.0 to 6.5 pH. On the other hand, azaleas, gardenias, and blueberries prefer highly acidic soil. A soil test will outline the major nutrient issues of your soil. This way, you’ll spend less money on amendments that your soil does not need.
Assess Soil Health
How healthy is your garden soil? You’ll never know the health of your soil at a glance. Soil samples have to be reviewed to determine its current fertility and health. A soil test could pinpoint key nutrient deficiencies as well as crucial information about the structure of the soil for optimal crop yield.
How Often Should Soil Testing be Conducted?
Soil testing can be done at any time of the year. Most growers conduct soil testing on a yearly basis, others do it only when needed. Whatever time of the year you chose to test your garden soil, be sure to do it before you start planting crops.
You can start the soil testing by taking a soil sample to your local labs or gardening center. You can also buy a soil testing kit or get one for free at your local county extension office.
We do not recommend testing the soil when it is wet or if it’s been recently amended. To get a sample, use a trowel to take about a cup’s worth of soil from various parts of the garden. Leave the soil samples to air dry at room temperature then transfer each sample in a clean container or a resealable plastic bag. Slap on a label for each sample with the soil area and the date for testing.
Other Benefits of Soil Testing
Think soil testing is something that does not really make much of an impact on your garden? Regardless if you are building a small flower garden or growing crops for food or profit, here are just some of the many benefits of soil testing:
Save Money and Time on Gardening
Soil testing will save you a lot of time, money, and effort on gardening. Knowing your soil’s nutrient profile lets you amend the soil with the right product at the right intervals. If you skip the soil test, there is no way for you to know what nutrients your soil lacks.
Since most gardening products are designed for certain types of soil, you could be spending money on products that are not suitable for your soil type. Amending the soil doesn't mean it has to be done in the entire property. You can focus the amendments on problem areas only. And if you think soil testing is expensive, it’s not. Soil test kits are available at affordable prices. Some labs also offer affordable soil testing.
Control Pests, Diseases, and Invasive Plants
Did you know that soil testing is also an effective way to control pests, diseases, and invasive plants like weeds without using pesticides or herbicides? Infestation of any kind is usually caused by nutrient imbalances in the soil. Getting a nutrient profile of the soil is one way to control infestation in gardens and farms.
Diseases are also caused by imbalances in the garden, which can be corrected by soil testing. The same thing can be said for problem areas in the garden, such as unsightly lawn spots. You can develop an even-looking garden by identifying the problem in these areas and amending the soil accordingly.
Track and Improve Soil Progress
Regular soil testing is a great step for maximizing your garden’s yield season after season. By testing the soil regularly, you’ll know if your soil’s pH level is improving along with its nutrient profile. This way, you can optimize your garden for plant growth.
One of the key benefits of soil testing is that it’s absolutely environmentally-friendly. Think about it, knowing more about your soil allows you to use the right amount of fertilizers while also eliminating or reducing runoffs on waterways. Since you are using fewer fertilizers, you are also minimizing your consumption of products that take a lot of energy to produce.
When it comes to understanding your soil, nothing beats soil testing. Analyzing the soil in your garden help you make the right choice in terms of soil amendments and the application rates of fertilizers, which will eventually save you money. Over-application of nutrients may also affect the water quality in your local area, something that soil testing can prevent.