Winter is a good time to get garden soil analyzed

Last Updated: 
February 3, 2009

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Winter is a good time to test your home garden soil for nutrients.

“Testing your soil now will help let you know what nutrients your soil needs, so you will be able to plan your fertilizer program before the planting season begins later in the spring,” said John Hart, an Oregon State University Extension soil science specialist.

“A soil test is like taking an inventory of the nutrients available to plants,” Hart explained. “Garden soil nutrients may be too high, too low or just right. But gardeners won’t know until they test their soil.”

A soil test also may solve garden mysteries, revealing causes of scabby potatoes, yellowing plants and slow or poor growth – all potentially caused by soil nutrient problems.

A soil test also may save gardeners money.

“You can avoid putting on the wrong kind or too much fertilizer if you know what nutrients you already have,” he said.

Laboratory soil testing is more reliable than the soil testing kits available at garden centers. Adequate phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and calcium and an appropriate pH are necessary for healthy plant growth. Soil test results determine how much and what kinds of fertilizer or lime to apply.

Garden soils should be tested every three to five years, recommended Hart. The sample can be taken any time of year, as long as fertilizer has not been applied recently. Test costs vary according to the number of elements tested.

Want to know how to take a good soil sample and where to send it for analysis? The OSU Extension Service offers an updated list of “Laboratories Serving Oregon,” (EM 8677) and “Soil Sampling for Home Gardens and Small Acreages” (EC 628), both available for no charge from Extension's online catalog, http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog (use the search box to locate specific publications). Printed copies are available for a fee. Call 1-800-561-6719 to order.

Author: Carol Savonen
Source: John Hart