Healthy landscape starts with simple soil test

In my many years of gardening and horticultural consulting, I firmly believe two factors are 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, make sure your soil is healthy by providing the conditions and nutrients your plants and lawn need to thrive.

Assessing your soil’s condition with a test. It’s a simple, but important step, in assessing some of the most basic elements.


■ Identify nutrient deficiencies: For plants to thrive, they need certain levels of nutrients. There are major, minor and micronutrients that all plants use in varying quantities. An analysis will tell you the concentration of these nutrients in your soil and how to correct deficiencies.

■ Optimize nutrient availability: Another important measurement in soil analysis is the pH level. It’s a relative range from zero to 14, which measures the acidity or alkalinity. A reading of 7 is neutral. Readings below 7 signal acidic soil; readings higher than 7.0 signal alkaline soil.

Most plants grow best in a range of 6 to 7. The soil report will provide information on how to bring your soil’s pH into optimal range for what you are trying to grow.

Even if you have the perfect nutrient balance, 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 won’t be able to absorb them. Conversely, if you have perfect pH, but lack appropriate nutrients, your plants will underperform.

■ Measure the organic matter in your soil. An oft-overlooked trait of healthy soil is the presence of organic matter.

It doesn’t take much, but organic matter is very important for promoting the right environment for plants to thrive. Adding compost, mulch, etc. will do wonders for raising the percentage.

The cheapest, quickest soil test 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).

Joe Lamp’l is the host and executive producer of “Growing a Greener World” on national public television, and the founder of The joe gardener Company, devoted to environmentally responsible gardening and sustainable outdoor living.

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