Saturday, March 18, 2017

Get Your Soil Test Before You Start Planting by Donna Duffy

Most of us take our soil for granted, and don’t give too much thought about it until it’s time to plant. Even then, it’s easy to dump a bag of compost on the planting site and walk away thinking that we’ve done our soil a big favor. Not so! Soil is a dynamic living substance in which complex biological and chemical reactions take place every day. Taking time to learn about the soil in your yard is one of the best things you can do to maximize the success of your landscaping efforts.

Before planting that new garden, get a soil test! Photo by Donna Duffy

Colorado has 30-490 different classes of soil, and the soil in your front yard may be different from the soil in your backyard - and your neighbor's soil maybe completely different. Think about what happened when your house was constructed. Heavy equipment drove all over your yard-to-be. It scraped off the top layers of soil, and likely buried pieces of wood, trash, drywall, asphalt and concrete into the remaining soil. When the construction equipment left, the native soil was altered and severely compacted. 

So, before you start your spring and summer planting, take time to get a soil test. Colorado State University will analyze your soil sample for pH, soluble salts, organic matter, nitrate nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, iron, copper, manganese, lime and soil texture. The report will include suggestions that relate your results to fertilizer and soil management. There is a cost for this service, but in the long run, it will save you time and money as you create your landscape. Check out the following website for information about soil testing:

These plants are more likely to thrive if you are knowledgeable about your soil. Photo by Donna Duffy
While you are waiting for the results of your soil test, here are some tips for working with soil:

  • Avoid working the soil when it's wet - this may lead to further compaction;
  • Wait to add fertilizer or compost until you get your soil results;
  •  Think about raised bed and container gardening as an alternative to working with poor soil;
  • If you are working with a sloped area, be careful not to remove the plant cover. This exposes your soil to erosion.