There are two factors more responsible for a healthy landscape than anything else. First, putting the right plant in the right place. It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how often this basic principle is violated. Second, do all you can to make sure your soil is healthy by providing the conditions and nutrients your plants and lawn need to thrive.
The best place to start in knowing the condition of your garden is with a soil test, which will achieve several objectives:
Identify nutrient deficiencies: In order for plants to thrive, they need certain nutrients. There are major and minor as well as micronutrients that are all used by plants in various quantities. An analysis will tell you the concentration of these nutrients in your soil and how to correct any deficiencies.
Optimize nutrient availability: Knowing your soil’s pH level is also important. This level is a relative range from zero to 14, which measures acidity or alkalinity. A reading of 7.0 is neutral. Anything below indicates acidic soil, while readings above 7.0 are alkaline. Most plants grow best in a range of 6.0 to 7.0. The soil report will provide information on how to bring your soil’s pH into optimal range for what you are trying to grow.
Although you may have a good balance of nutrients, 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 optimal pH but lack the appropriate nutrients, your plants will perform below their potential.
Measure the organic matter in your soil: An often-overlooked trait of healthy soil is the presence of organic matter. You might be surprised to know that across the country, that number on average is less than 5 percent. Although it doesn’t take much, organic matter is important for plants to thrive. Adding compost, mulch, etc., will do wonders for raising the percentage.
Soil tests are available from a number of sources. The cheapest and quickest option is a simple do-it-yourself kit that you can buy from box stores and garden centers. If you’re looking for a very general idea of your pH, this will do. But DIY kits don’t compare in quality or accuracy to the results you get through your county extension service or private labs.
Expect to pay between $15 and $30 for this service (which is a bargain for what you get, in my opinion).
A quality report includes an accurate measurement of the soil pH, as well as the major and minor nutrients. It will also provide the suggested amounts and types of nutrients to add to your existing soil to bring it into optimal levels for growing the plants or crops you have specified.