by Michele Collins
“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence,” so goes the familiar proverb. But it can be greener – or at least get greener – on your side by using a simple soil test, according to Sandy Barbic, education specialist with Summit Soil and Water Conservation District.
According to Barbic, “A soil test provides information on the type and amounts of nutrients in your soil. It also shows your pH, whether your soil is acidic or basic. This is very important since pH affects the availability of the nutrients that plants need.”
And knowing what’s available helps determine what nutrients need to be added for optimal growing conditions.
“For example, if the soil is too low in pH, or acidic, then magnesium, one of 16 nutrients that plants need, becomes unavailable. Magnesium is important for photosynthesis,” she said. “Your soil test results will also advise you how to repair any soil problems. In the case of low pH the test results would advise you to add lime in a certain amount.”
Lime has a high magnesium content.
Summit County residents can get a soil test done through SSWCD for $15. Call 330-926-2445 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a test kit. The Cuyahoga County Extension of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences recommends Cuyahoga residents use the University of Massachusetts’s Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Lab. Visit cuyahoga.osu.edu/program-areas/agriculture-and-natural-resources for more information.
The SSWCD website, sswcd.summitoh.net, offers a guide on how to collect a soil sample. Barbic said the most important tip is to test soil whereever “you propose to grow whatever it is you want to grow … the vegetable garden, flower beds and/or turf grass lawn area.”
“You would use a separate test kit for each type of vegetation that you want to grow, because they each would have their own growing conditions,” she explained.
For a large lawn field, Barbic said, residents can sample different areas and mix the samples in one bag to test. For smaller areas, you would only need to sample one or two spots.
“If you have a particular problem area, then you would just sample that area. For instance, if you are growing rhododendrons or blueberries and they are not doing well, you would sample the soil where they are growing.”
Once samples are received, SSWCD sends them to Michigan State University. Results are returned in about two weeks, according to Barbic.
She noted that testing soil, before fertilizing, is one of the best ways homeowners can help improve the quality of local watersheds.
“We want people to get their soil tested so they stop adding synthetic fertilizers to their soil that they don’t need. Plants only take up so much, and if they already have enough, then the rest of the nutrients end up in our waterways causing algae blooms, fish kills and killing off the macroinvertebrates that live in the streams,” according to Barbic. Test first, feed accordingly and your plants will thrive, she said. ∞