NEIGHBORHOOD GARDEN FOR OCTOBER 20, 2007
GET YOUR SOIL TESTED NOW!!!
BY GEORGE EDGAR
Did you have
trouble with a particular area of your lawn and/or garden last year? Did
some of your plants just not grow the way they should? Are you planning
to plant a new flower garden or vegetable garden? Are you going to put
in a new lawn next spring, or plant a new tree and/or shrub this fall?
Are you wondering if your soil needs to be amended so your plants will
grow to their full potential? If you answered yes to any of the above
questions, now is a good time to get your soil tested so you know what
needs to be added or done to the soil this fall. Fall is the best time
to add organic material and can be done anytime before the ground
The easiest way
to do this is to get a small, postage paid, cardboard box from your
County Extension Office or from many full service garden centers.
This container is very easy to use.
It comes with a little plastic bag, instructions, and a form to
complete. Just fill in the form and inform the soil lab at UNL what you
are going to plant. On the
form where it says “crop”, put what you will be planting in that
particular area. That is,
are you trying to grow flowers, vegetables, a tree/shrub, or grass? This
will allow the lab to send specific recommendations for that area.
If you don’t indicate what you will be planting, you will still
get an analysis of your soil but no specific recommendations. For
specific help you can contact your Extension Educator after you get your
If you want
separate tests done for your lawn, your vegetable garden, and or your
flower garden, take separate samples from each area and put in separate
boxes. The form tells you how much the cost is depending upon the kind
of test desired. Then just
mail the postage paid soil sample and it will be tested by the Soil Lab
at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and they will send you the
results. The simplest test
will be for the pH level, phosphorus, potassium, and organic matter.
There is a minimal cost for each test sent in.
company told a customer twice last fall that it was time for her “fall
lime application”. Her daughter-in-law, a Master Gardener, had taught
her that lime raises the pH in the soil and is usually not needed in
Eastern and Central Nebraska. Without this knowledge she would have had
an unnecessary expense. The pH in Eastern and Central Nebraska already
runs neutral, 6.5 to 7.3. Thus, we should not add lime unless a soil
test indicates a need. The same is true for other soil amendments such
as gypsum which also raises the pH and does nothing to break up clay
soil. DO NOT ADD AMENDMENTS WITHOUT A SOIL TEST.
son lives in Albany, New York, and the soil there is more acidic, pH 5.5
to 6.5. Acid loving plants like blueberries, azalea, and rhodendrons
grow great. But to grow some other plants and vegetables, he needs to
add lime. Many books and TV garden shows such as Victory Garden come
from New England and the East Coast and they are always adding lime. We
do not need it. Farmers may
add lime to their soil because heavy irrigation leaches it out of the
soil. But they do this only after they have conducted a soil test.
The water in Lincoln has a pH of about 7.3 so this adds to our
problem of high pH.
may occur in some soils that have a pH higher than 7.0 and are compacted
and poorly drained. (Sounds like Eastern and Central Nebraska soils
doesn’t it?) Pin Oak trees especially get iron chlorosis most every
year because the iron in the soil can not be utilized by the plant when
the pH gets above 7.0. Adding
iron to the soil probably will not help until the pH is lowered.
Problems with chlorosis can be reduced by lowering the pH in the soil by
working horticultural sulfur granules into the soil at least every fall
and most years also in the spring. I add sulfur to my acid loving plants
such as Azalea, Rhododendron, and Blueberries in the fall and fertilize
with a fertilizer that is high in sulfur and high in iron (Holly Tone)
in the spring.
The results of
the soil test can also tell you about the organic matter of the soil and
if you need to add more. Our hard compacted clay soil can be greatly
improved with organic matter. If you are going to start a new lawn, a
new flower bed or vegetable garden for next spring, don’t just added
topsoil. Most top soil you get in a bag or by the truck load has very
little organic material. Compost, grass clippings, leaves, straw,
Canadian peat moss, humus and manure, or composted manure are the best
amendments. Many cities have compost available from their recycling and
that is a good amendment any time. Any composted manure should be at
least one or two years old, not fresh. Bags of compost or composted
manure do not cost much more than top soil and is certainly more
the UNL Extension Publication G90-945-A “A Gardener’s Guide for Soil
and Nutrient Management in Growing Vegetables”, a soil test is usually
needed only every 5 years. This publication also lists the desired pH
range for vegetable crops. According to this publication, “Problems
with insects, diseases, herbicide injury, and weather conditions may be
difficult to distinguish from soil fertility problems, and can occur at
the same time. Although 16
elements are needed for plant growth, only nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P),
potassium (K), sulfur (S), iron (Fe), and zinc (Zn) may need to be added
to Nebraska soils.”
information about getting a soil test and the nutrient needs of plants
is available on the internet at http://ianrhome.unl.edu/search.
In the top box scroll down to “Extension Publications”. In the
bottom box you can type in the name of any plant, shrub, tree, insect,
disease, or other subject you want information about. Many extension
publications dealing with that subject will be displayed. Click on the
one you want to read. They
may be saved on your computer or printed off if desired.
soil test box has a pre-printed, postage paid label so it is easy to
use. Get a University of Nebraska –Lincoln soil test kit and have your
soil tested now so you can add what you need this fall!!! Remember, fall
is the best time to add organic material and can be done anytime before
the ground freezes.