How much water and fertilizer should be applied and even what types of plants can be grown is determined by the soil in the garden. In addition, applying too many nutrients can be harmful to the environment and result in soil imbalances. According to the North Carolina University State Extension Office, “Soil tests can help save the homeowner time and money as well as encourage a healthy environment by reducing unnecessary fertilizer use.”
So how can soil quality be determined? For people engaging in large-scale planting such as farming, taking soil samples and having them analyzed by the County Extension Service is advisable. These tests will provide detailed breakdowns of nutrients in a particular area as well as pH content.
Measuring soil’s alkalinity or acidity determine its pH level. Measured on a scale of 0 to 14, a low number such as zero represents harsh acidity, while fourteen is alkaline heavy. Ideally, pH should measure between 6.0 and 7.5. An imbalanced pH can prohibit nutrients from being absorbed by the plants. This test can best be performed by a County Extension Service or by purchasing a pH soil testing kit from a nursery or hardware store. For the Extension Service nearest you, contact the USDA or call your nearest state university. They will advise you on collecting and submitting soil samples for testing properly.
For those who only wish to plant a small flower or vegetable garden, submitting samples to the County Extension Service might be more than necessary. In those cases, determining the type of soil may be adequate. Plants in light, or sandy soil need plenty of water and nutrients. Those in heavy clay may well be killed by over-watering. To determine which type of soil you have, perform this simple test:
Now set the jar down and watch the particles settle. The larger sand grains will fall to the bottom of the jar almost immediately. Finer silt particles will take a while longer and tiny clay particles will settle only after several hours.
Now read the layers. Equal layers of sand, silt, and clay indicate loamy soil—ideal for plants. A thick layer of sand means light soil; dig in some organic matter. A thick layer of clay shows heavy soil; dig in sand and organic matter.
Putting this information into practice will give you a nutrient-rich garden, yielding the lushest flowers and the finest vegetables.