Soil testing and fertilizer applications are of the utmost importance in achieving a successful garden. We receive calls at the Shelby County Extension Office daily from gardeners who wish to improve the soil in their garden. My first recommendation to achieve a fertile and productive garden is always to start with a soil test. There are several reasons and benefits as to why it is essential to test your soil. It is all about soil pH!
Soil pH affects nutrient availability. It describes the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. If the soil pH is too low or too high, it can affect plants ability to access the appropriate nutrients from the soil. Depending on the soil pH, you might get a lime or elemental sulfur recommendation. Lime is used to increase the soil pH and elemental sulfur lowers the soil pH. It is imperative to follow the recommendations as closely as possible. Excess lime can increase the pH making it a challenge to lower the pH with sulfur applications. Testing the soil every two to three years is vital.
Many gardeners are familiar with chemical fertilizers. These can be produced by industrial processes or they can be mined. Organic materials are derived from living materials (composts, manures, etc.) or mineral deposits (rock phosphate). Organic fertilizers are slowly available to the plant due to microbial activity that is needed to break it down into forms that can be readily taken up by the plant.
When applying fertilizers, exceeding recommendations will not be helpful to the plants. Recommendations are based on your soil conditions. Too much fertilizer can lead to nutrient deficiencies because excesses of some nutrients can lead to poor uptake of others. Excess nutrients can be lost to the environment which may contaminate our rivers and streams. Thus, it is important to follow specific recommendations closely.
Fertilizers must be dissolved in water in order to be taken up by plants. Water is an important component in providing proper nutrients to plants of all types. Do your best to maintain proper moisture as this is essential for plant growth.
Take the first step to better soil! Come by the office and pick up a soil test kit! I am more than happy to explain how it all works!