Soil Fertility Testing

The rain of last week was certainly welcome. Amounts varied but all was welcome. Lawns had begun to go dormant and many other plants were just hanging in there coping with the stress. All the rain we had during the summer weakened root systems and these plants just can't handle much stress. You may have noticed how quickly the corn crop matured this year. In a matter of just a few weeks, the corn plant died, prematurely. As a result we're finding that test weight is down somewhat.

Gardens this year were really nothing to brag about. Too many rainy days didn't allow for plants to progress normally. Root systems were extremely compromised so plants just didn't grow well. Unfortunately, the weeds suffered no such concern and many gardens were lost to them. I received less than 2" of rain in August and it was three weeks between rains, so plants were just about ready to give up when this last rain arrived.

Plants will only produce as well as the soil allows. And the first step in successful gardening is to make sure your soil fertility level is adequate. Plants require nutrients just like we do and they attain those nutrients from the soil, so for the plant to be healthy, the root system has to be functioning properly. And that was one reason why all plants suffered this year.

A soil test should be done every 3-4 years to determine the amount of nutrients available to any crop, be it lawn, tomato, soybean, hay, flower, etc. To take a proper soil test, dig a 7" hole and take a slice the entire length and place it in a bucket. Do that in 4-5 places in the garden or lawn, and mix them together for one sample. Most soil labs will provide test results for pH (acidity or alkalinity of the soil), phosphorus and potassium. You can ask for and get other tests performed, but unless there is a specific issue or concern, it's probably not worth the extra cost.

I've been making soil fertility recommendations for many years and have seen extremely high soil test levels and extremely poor levels. Neither is good. Soils that test very low are not supplying the necessary nutrients and the crop will suffer. If the soil test is extremely high, you're throwing money away by adding additional nutrients.

There are several places that will provide the testing service. You can drop off the sample to an area fertilizer dealer or check with your local Farm Bureau. Cost will usually be less than $10 per sample. You'll want to get a recommendation for your crop so take the test by your local Extension office for help.