Autumn is a good time for a soil test | Faith & Community



A simple soil test can reveal the nutrient levels present in the soil.

Vijai Pandian

Before setting up your garden for winter, think about how you can improve your garden soil for next year’s harvest. Healthy garden soil is the foundation of successful gardening, and a simple soil test can reveal the nutrient levels present in the soil and help strategically plan your soil improvement efforts.

Why soil test? Too often we go blind to improve the garden soil by adding fertilizers, micronutrients, lime, sulfur and other materials without knowing the existing nutrient status. This approach can be ineffective in improving plant growth and doing more harm than good to the soil.

Plants generally respond better to their specific nutritional needs than a generic application. An old saying, “If one pound is good, two are better and three must be best” does not apply to plant growth and its nutritional needs. In fact, indiscriminate fertilization can cause nutrient leaching, alter soil chemistry, and cause plant damage. By adapting your nutrient intake to the needs of the plant, you can save costs, prevent plant diseases and avoid unnecessary waste of nutrients that is washed away on the surface of the soil. A soil test determines the current nutrient status of the soil and recommends the right amount of nutrients that is tailored to the needs of the plants.

Which nutrients are tested? A standard lawn and garden soil test analyzes the pH of the soil (measure of acidity or alkalinity), the content of organic matter, and the phosphorus and potassium nutrient content. In addition, the test report recommends an adequate supply of nutrients depending on the respective culture. However, the standard lawn and garden soil test report does not analyze soil nitrogen levels because soil nitrogen levels vary widely and the test result cannot be accurately interpreted to meet crop needs. Other soil nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, boron and soil contaminants such as lead can also be tested for an additional charge. For more information, see the UW Soil and Forage Lab website at https://uwlab.soils.wisc.edu/fees.

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