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Ready for spring? Sample soil now for success later

POSTED: March 14, 2014 1:00 a.m.

The past couple of weeks I think my office has shipped close to 100 soil samples to the test lab in Athens. This is always a sign that spring is on the horizon as people begin to prepare and plan what they want to grow this year.

Soil testing is always important for a successful garden or flowerbed. This year, it will be critical for many gardeners to grow healthy plants.

So why is this year going to be different? The short answer is rainfall.

Now I am not being critical of the amount of rain we have received. I definitely prefer rainy years like we had than to deal with the trials of a drought. But all of this rain has put us in a pinch, so to speak.

Many nutrients in the soil have more than likely been washed away or leached through the soil. Once this happens, it goes beyond the root zone of the plant.

So from last year to this year, the amount of available nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium can be very different.

Whether you are taking a soil sample from a yard, garden or a flowerbed, the way you extract it is the same. The basic idea is to harvest enough soil from the area you are sampling where the entire area is equally represented.

To do actual sampling, all you need is a good garden trowel.

Take the trowel and dig out a vertical slice of soil 4 to 6 inches deep. Begin at one end of the yard or garden and in a grid-like pattern take 8 to 10 soil slices and mix them up in a clean plastic bucket.

Once you are done, bring it to the office and we will ship it to our lab in Athens at the University of Georgia for analysis. Usually it takes seven to 10 days for results to come back.

If you have any questions about your results, call us and we will go over the report with you.

From the report, you will know the soil pH and how much lime you need to apply to raise it to a proper level. It will also tell you what kind of fertilizer you need and when to apply it to optimize what you are growing.

Hopefully your yard or garden did not have too many nutrients leached away from last year’s rainfall, but the only way to tell is to have your soil tested.

In the end, this will save you money and keep the nutrients you apply in your yard and not running off to the lake because you overdid it with the fertilizer. Remember to apply as much fertilizer as the plant needs; not too much or too little.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears weekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.


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