Why should you get a soil test done in the fall? Fall is actually one of the best times to have your soil tested. Let’s take a look at why fall is an optimum time for testing.
What Is Soil Testing?
A soil test provides an analysis of the soil structure, chemical composition, pH, fertility and suitability of the soil for its intended use. There are many other tests available; for example, tests can be conducted for engineering purposes to assess a site prior to building.
But the tests we’re concerned with are, of course, related to the home garden. Farmers also get tests done annually to ensure their soil is properly prepared for its intended crops.
What Does a Soil Test Tell You?
Each sample analyzed yields clues about where it came from to the trained eye. A geologist can spot the composition and proportion of clay, sand, minerals, etc. and know where it came from in the local area.
Soil analysis, either done professionally through the Cooperative Extension office of on your own using a home test kit, will tell you the following information:
- Soil composition: Do you have clay, sand, or loamy soil (or any combination?)
- pH: What is the pH of the soil? Some plants prefer a more acidic soil (numbers below 7) and some a more alkaline soil (numbers above 7). Generally, vegetable plants prefer pH from 5.5 – 7.
- Porosity: How quickly does the soil drain?
- Nutrients: What nutrients does you soil contain and in what proportion, percent or quantity? What does it lack?
Home gardeners desire information about the soil’s pH, nutrient composition, and suitability for what they intend to grow. They may also seek answers to questions such as why doesn’t this plant grow well here or what are these brown spots on my lawn?
Soil analysis offers this and more.
Why Should You Test Your Soil?
Millions of gardeners just stick plants in the ground and call it a day. They dig in a few tulip bulbs or tomatoes and admire the results.
But you’re not like that. No, not you. If you were, you wouldn’t be a Home Garden Joy reader! You want to grow your knowledge of gardening along with those tulips, tomatoes, raspberries, strawberries, trees, shrubs and more.
Benefits of Soil Analysis
Soil tests offer many benefits for the backyard gardener:
- Identifies precisely what kind of soil you have – and what you have available in that soil – so you know what you’ve got to start with.
- Identifies soil pH, which can be done with a pH meter or soil test.
- Provides information on exactly what you may need to add to the soil to grow the desired crops. This prevents over-fertilization and chemical run off, which pollutes waterways and streams.
- Saves money and time for the backyard gardener. When you know exactly what to add to your soil, whether it is fertilizer or lime or other amendments, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on extraneous stuff your soil doesn’t need. You can focus on getting exactly what’s needed to grow your desired crops.
- Healthier plants. When you know the existing soil composition, you can add exactly the right amendments for healthier plants.
Tests are available throughout the year from your local Cooperative Extension Office, nursery and garden center, or other locations.
When Should You Test Your Soil?
Most people request soil analysis in the spring. However, spring tends to be a very busy time at soil testing laboratories. Local farmers, landscapers and contractors are also requesting soil tests at that time of year. You may have to wait weeks for the results.
Some amendments require plenty of time to dissolve into the soil and work their way down into the levels where plants’ roots can reach them. Fall provides the ideal climate to dissolve amendments like lime. Rain washes it into the soil where it dissolves, adjusting the pH so that by spring, the soil is ready for planting.
Consider soil tests for your garden’s health. End your gardening year by cleaning up the plants and testing the soil for a good head start to the new year.
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.