October 2017 "Edgefield County as it Happens"


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                                                      Regional November

Making Your Soil Rich Without Making You Poor

By Amanda Whatley Owen

web posted November 6, 2017
GARDENING – So, right about now, you're thinking, "Hey, I'm not a professional gardener or a farmer…why should I bother testing my soil?" Well, it's simple…results. Besides a little money, you've put in too much time and effort not to achieve the results that you want, so let's not overlook this important detail.

Last week, we discussed how to turn yard waste into nutrient-rich humus for your garden and flower beds. In keeping with the theme of enriching your soil (without depleting our wallets), we'll talk about testing your soil to see what it needs to make your particular plants thrive. This is an, often overlooked, basic gardening concept that can have a major impact on the results you wish to obtain. Much like how we fuel our bodies, the right chemical balances in your soil, is important to achieving the level of performance desired in your landscape.

Let's say you want a yard full of azaleas and you want the Augusta National to be jealous of how well your azaleas look during Master's Week. You can't just go to your local nursery, spend $30.00 on each shrub, come home, plant and water them, and expect them to succeed. Shrubs like azaleas prefer acidic soil, while other plants prefer alkaline soil. You can look up Zone 8 and 7 plants before you purchase them, or ask your friendly nurseryman, to see what type of soil they like. The point is…different strokes for different plants!

Knowing your soil's makeup, and your plant's preferences can help you plan what (if anything) needs to be done to make your plant selection thrive. Testing your soil may also help determine why an existing plant might be doing poorly. Who knew soil testing could be so important?

The best time to test your soil is in late Fall or early Spring. The reason is because that is when the majority of people do their plant change outs and prepare their gardens for the following season. This will give you adequate time to make adjustments to your soil. Be sure your soil is fairly dry when you take these samples. I would not suggest doing it after a weeks worth of rain. 

Well, how can I test my soil ? There are three easy ways to do it. The most common way is to visit your local extension (Clemson) and they will provide you with a bag to take home. Just scoop up a sample of your soil, and take it back to the extension. They will print you a report of your soil's current state and make recommendations to you on what your soil needs. There is a small fee for this service.

Another cost efficient way, is to visit your local hardware store or home improvement garden center. They will have two types of pH tester.  A pH tester can be used in your garden, planters, landscape, and even in your lawn! The electric reader Is the best and cost under $30.00. You can use this year after year. Simply stick the small rod into the test area and the device will give you your (pH level) number. It will also let you know how dry or wet your soil actually is.

There are manual kits which require digging small samples, adding water to tubes, and reading a color chart. Regarding pH level numbers, anything below a 7 will be acidic. Anything above a 7 will be alkaline. A great natural medium is a 6.2 to a 7.2. These numbers best satisfy the majority of plants.

There is one last, very simple, home remedy some also use. Get two old glass jars and add soil to the jars. In one jar pour water over the soil, then add baking soda In the other jar of soil, pour vinegar. If the jar with baking soda bubbles the most, then your soil is too acidic. If the jar with vinegar bubbles the most then your soil is too alkaline. 

So, you tested your soil now, how do you get it to where it needs to be? The extension will, generally, provide you a long list of all the nutrients your soil will need. If you pH is high (higher than a seven), you will likely mix some sulfur into the beds. If the pH is low ( lower than a seven), you will add some lime. After adding the nutrient you will need to do a few more checks to make sure you fed the soil the right amount.

If you have low nitrogen using a high nitrogen fertilizer like (34-0-0) will help. If you have high nitrogen, you have been over fertilizing. Stop fertilizing for a few months and over water your soil.

For low phosphorous you can add bone meal or mix into your humus.  For high phosphorus, do not fertilize for a year, and plant extra plants in that area to suck up some of that nutrient.

If you have low potassium, mix in ashes from fire wood into the soil. Try not to do this near acidic plants because it can diminish their growth. For high potassium, back off on the general-purpose fertilizer and opt for a high nitrogen fertilizer.

For poor drainage, or too much drainage, use last week's tip about adding humus from your compost pile.  I hope this helps with testing your soil and enhancing your garden this season, and for many seasons to come!

Next Week:
It's time for those winter annuals. Swing by Mandy's Friendly Garden to learn more.

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