KC Gardens

Soil testing is the foundation for a healthy soil

Soil test results

Tip of the Week

So when is the last time you tested your soil? How about this question; when is the last time you applied fertilizer? If you can remember when you last fertilized but not tested the soil then it is time to take a soil test. Because here is the bottom line, if you did not have test results how did you know what type of analysis or fertilizer to apply? I know, I know — you just guessed, or applied what someone told you to put down. Unfortunately, that is a mistake many people make.

Here’s the bottom line: without this important tool there is no way to tell what nutrients your lawn or garden needs. Without these results you are just guessing. Do I need to correct the pH by adding lime or sulfur? Do I need to apply a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 like all the garden books recommend? All these questions and more can be answered for less than $15, or in some cases, free. Now that’s a very small investment that can pay big dividends.

A soil test reveals several important numbers. One of the most important is the pH level. This tells you how to manage the soil for corrections, or to use as a guide for what to plant. The pH level regulates the availability of nutrients to the plants. If it’s either too high or too low the plants can suffer. Our local pH levels tend to run on the high side, which requires sulfur to lower.

Unfortunately, way too often people apply lime because some idiot told them it would be a good thing. Never guess when it comes to pH amendment. Here is another issue; local garden centers, please reduce your inventory stock of lime and start carrying pelletized sulfur in 50 pound bags. This is what is needed most often in the KC area, but it is very hard to find. I cannot even begin to count how often I have recommended simple elemental sulfur to Extension clients, who then go to the garden center only to find sulfur dust in 5 pound sacks. I get the calls from frustrated people wanting to know where to buy large volumes of pelletized sulfur.

A soil test also shows the soil’s phosphorus and potassium level. This information is then the basis to determine what analysis of fertilizer to purchase. Most of us tend to over apply phosphorus and potassium. Excessive and misapplied phosphorus and potassium can become pollutants in local streams. Like most things, more is not necessarily better. There is only so much the soils can hold and the plants can use. The rest is pretty much useless or holds the potential to move into our water and create problems.

So what are you waiting for? Soil testing can be done year-round, and now is an ideal time. Testing can be done at any local extension office on either the Kansas or Missouri side. Call your local office or check out their websites for directions. Here in Johnson County we charge $12 per sample and it takes about three weeks to get the results.

Better yet, Johnson County residents you have the opportunity to receive a free soil test courtesy of Johnson County Stormwater Management. Extension and Stormwater have teamed up to offer one free soil test per Johnson County address each year. This is a heck of a deal, as this simple investment can save you not only money but help your lawn and garden flourish and keep our water clean. All the information needed for soil testing can be found at www.johnson.ksu.edu . For those outside of Johnson County, contact your local extension office for information on soil testing.

One last thing — managing soil is a science and shouldn’t be left to guesswork. So do the correct thing and find out your soil’s base line fertility for a healthy lawn, garden and environment.


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