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Wheeler: Healthy plants need soil pH, dirt and fertilizer
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If you have ever come into the office to ask me a question about how to grow a garden, fix a production issue or renovate a pasture, one of the first things I talk about is bringing in a soil sample to the office.

By knowing what is going on with the soil, a lot of questions can be answered. From there, we can begin the process of figuring out the best way to grow a crop or fix a problem.

Soil sampling will not only save you money in the long run, but also is better for the environment — you are making adjustments to the soil that are not going to put in too many nutrients that cannot be used by the plant. Unused nutrients are leached past the roots of plants or end up in a watershed.

Soil testing is the foundation of agriculture and gardening. Without having the right information about your soil, it is like driving a car blindfolded. Getting your soil tested periodically gives you information you need in order to make good decisions on how to manage a crop and what to plant for the future.

So you do the right thing for the environment and your wallet by having a soil test performed on your property and you get about a dozen numbers.

Now what? What does all that mean to you? The primary number that I would focus in on is the soil pH, which measures the acidity of the dirt. What that means to you and me is that it regulates how well plants can use a fertilizer.

If the pH is too low, nutrients never make it to the plant roots; they just stay locked up in the soil. Most plants stay the healthiest and grow the best in a soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5. The lower the soil pH, the more acidic the soil is.

Typically our Southern soils are naturally acidic, so we usually need to add lime to help improve or raise the soil pH. However, you can add too much lime over time. A soil pH that is too high is just as bad for the plant as one that is too low.

I have always said that lime is a poor man’s fertilizer. Many times, you will see an improvement in plant growth just by adding lime to the ground. As lime works its magic, the naturally occurring nutrients in the soil become available and the plants are able to tap into them more easily.

Another way of looking at it is that your soil pH must be in an optimal range before you can get the most out of the fertilizer you apply.

So there you have it. If you have gotten this far into the article, hopefully you now understand a fundamental concept of soil chemistry.

So before time gets too far gone, pull a soil sample from your vegetable garden, pasture or lawn and bring it into the office to be tested so you can start the growing season on the right foot.

If you have questions on how to take a soil sample, please do not hesitate to call me or stop by the office for information and a soil bag.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension 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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