Simple Soil Testing… See If You Hit Pay Dirt


Spring is certainly in the air and the planting urge is kicking in. When the first sunny days arrive, it is tempting to immediately plant anything we can get in our hands and shovels.

However, our plants would be a lot happier if we take just minute to think about their new home. After all, the more comfortable and nourishing their home becomes, the healthier they will be in the long run. Poor soil makes growing things much more challenging. So, if given the choice, start with good soil first to save yourself heartache and labor later.

A few techniques can help quickly identify general characteristics about your soil. Good soils are high in organic material (partially decomposing leaves, etc.) and are typically dark brown in color. New home sites often have been stripped of good, rich soil and consist of light brown soils. Unfortunately, lighter soils are typically higher in dense clay which impeded root growth.

Another simple and fun soil analysis is call the “Ribbon Test.”
1. Moisten a handful of soil in the palm of your hand until it is the consistency of putty.
2. Work the soil into a ball about 1/2″ in diameter.
3. Press the ball between your forefinger and thumb to form a ribbon.

If the soil forms ribbons easily and feels mostly sticky and smooth, it is primarily clay. If the soil does not hold any shape, it is very high in sand. If the soil forms short ribbons and feels smooth with a few rough particles, it is a loamy soil. Loam consists of sand, silt and clay and is ideal for garden and landscape plants.

If you have sandy or clay soil, you can improve it by adding organic materials such as compost, peat moss or humus. Spread to a 4″ layer of organic materials on the soil and work it in to a depth of 12 inches. A good soil is comprised of approximately 1/3 organic material. Because organic material decomposes over time, it is a good idea to retest your soil and occasionally topdress established beds with organic materials.

Now let’s take a pop quiz… What’s the secret to spectacular plants? Good soil! So take some time this spring to set the stage for a great growing season and you’ll be reaping rewards before you know it!

Happy Gardening,
Angie Eckert


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