Soil Testing – A Necessary Task Before Planting A New Garden Or Border
If you’re planning to spend a lot of money setting up a new garden, or re-planting a run-down border, you may wish to consider hiring a reputable company to conduct a far-reaching soil test. It might make the difference between success and failure.
Setting up a new garden invariably involves incurring considerable expense. While the hard landscaping elements such as paving, steps and water features usually take up the lion’s share of the budget, the cost of garden plants is hardly cheap at today’s prices. Yet it is at this point that many home owners, perturbed perhaps by the escalating costs, resist the suggestion of paying a further $300-$500 or so for one of the most necessary steps that should be taken prior to planting. The step is professional soil testing, which should be seen as an integral part of the process of creating a garden, or re-planting an extensive border.
In a soil test undertaken by a professional and reputable company, representative samples of earth are taken to a laboratory for analysis, the purpose of which is to gather accurate information upon which decisions regarding issues such as irrigation procedures, feeding regimes and the choosing of plants, are based. Much money can be saved of course by buying a home soil test kit, through which valuable data can be collected. These kits are no doubt adequate where relatively isolated questions are at stake; “is the soil acidic enough for Azaleas or Hydrangeas?” Or do I need to add nitrogen fertilizer? However, there are many other important matters which are usually beyond the scope of a home kit, so while these may be a necessary addition to the tool box for general maintenance, it is still desirable to undertake a professional test, where a large scale project is concerned. What kind of information then is necessary before planting?
Soil type: Determining whether a soil is predominantly clayish or sandy, (soil texture) has direct implications for irrigation and feeding practises.
Nutrient levels: It may not be that much of a discovery to know that it’s usually necessary to add nitrogen to the soil prior to planting, but in many dry climate soils, phosphorus is often present in quantities that can be damaging to certain plants.
Soil salinity: An increasingly common characteristic of soils in dry climates is high salt concentrations. This can have the most drastic implications for the growth and development of the garden plants, and perhaps more significantly, for the capacity of the soil to sustain vegetation in the future. As fertilizing and especially watering affect salt concentrations, professional advice on this issue, is in my opinion essential.
Soil pH: The acidity (low pH) or alkalinity (high pH) of the soil is something that home soil test kits can determine. Most dry and Mediterranean climate soils tend to be alkaline, affecting both the range of plants that can be chosen, and the availability of mineral nutrients to the plants. Highly alkaline soils can be amended by incorporating sulphur-based products, while excessive acidity reduced by lime. While commercial products give instructions as to the desired quantities relative to a soil’s pH, it is safer to consult with a soil expert. An extremely high pH at a depth of say 30-40cm, could indicate building rubble, kindly buried in your plot by the building contractor!
Soil pathogens: A soil analysis should also discover the presence of noxious perennial weeds or disease organisms like root nematodes, which can create havoc after the garden has been planted. Treatment of nematodes is normally beyond the competence of a gardener, and requires consulting with a soil specialist.
Drainage: This can be checked by the home owner alone. If rain water is standing in puddles for more than a few hours, then steps must be taken to improve the soil’s drainage. Help from a professional gardener should be sufficient.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
My name is Jonathan Ya'akobi.I've been gardening in a professional capacity since 1984.I am the former head gardener of the Jerusalem Botanical Garden, but now concentrate on building gardens for private home owners.I also teach horticulture to students on training courses.I'd love to help you get the very best from your garden,so you're welcome to visit me on http://www.dryclimategardening.com