Spring is finally here and you’re ready to plant a new flower garden or prepare your existing veggie garden for this year’s harvest. Before you race off to the local nursery or big box store for plants and fertilizer, consider how testing your soil can save you heaps of time and money.
The soil in Belknap County varies considerably. In fact, different areas in your yard may have different soil depending on the former uses of the land, how much top soil the home builder added and the plantings you’ve made.
The Top 8 Reasons to Test your Soil
- What’s in my Soil: The main reason to test your soil is to identify any problem areas and find out the:
- pH level – Soils in New Hampshire tend to be acidic (pH levels below 7.0). Your choice of plants may need additional lime or wood ash to increase alkalinity.
- Organic matter content – compost and manure improves soil structure and can provide needed plant nutrients.
- Nutrient levels – plants get their nutrients from the soil.
- What to Plant: In addition to requirements for sun or shade, different plants require different nutrients and pH levels. If the soil qualities where you intend to plant will require a lot of additives, you may decide to take on the additional work, plant something more suited to the existing soil or choose a different location with better soil for your plants.
- Healthy Plants: Having the optimum level of nutrients in your soil promotes healthier plants. A stressed plant that is deprived of nutrients is more prone to disease and insect attacks. Additionally, when your plants are healthy, they’ll be more productive. You’ll see more growth, larger flowers and more vegetables.
- Save Money: You’ll save money if you buy only the fertilizer your soil needs to provide the nutrients for what you’re planting. With so many different choices available, it’s difficult to choose which would be best. With the results of a soil test, you’ll know exactly what you need to add – and if you need to add anything!
- Save Time: You won’t spend your time adding unnecessary fertilizer or additives to your soil when you don’t need them. The best way to know exactly what you do need for your garden is from a soil test.
- Environmental Benefits: Fertilizer and compost can damage drinking water and the many lakes, rivers and streams in Belknap County. Applying fertilizer with nitrogen and/or phosphorus increases the likelihood that some will leech into the groundwater or run off into surface water areas. By having your soil tested, you’ll find out if your soil has enough nitrogen and phosphorus to reward you with a healthy, environmentally friendly lawn and/or garden without adding more.
- Lead Contamination: Lead is present in all soils, usually in very low concentrations. The amount of lead in soil can increased due to factors like – items buried underground in past years, chips of dust from lead-based paint, and/or spills of leaded gasoline used pre-1990s. Most of us do not know what has been done on our land in previous years. Screening for lead levels in your soil is important because excessive lead can affect health, especially in children. Soil tests facilitated by the UNH Cooperative Extension include lead screening.
- Expert Results: Do-it-yourself products are available at nursery centers and big box stores to test your soil. These tests provide an approximation of the pH level of your soil but are often unreliable. A UNH Cooperative Extension soil test provides an accurate, comprehensive analysis of your soil with specific recommendations for the plants you want to grow.
UNH Cooperative Extension Soil Testing Service
Submitting the material required for a soil test is detailed on the UNH Cooperative Extension website.
Collecting your Soil: For accurate results, it is important to follow the instructions for taking a soil sample especially the depth from which the soil is taken and mixing several samples from your gardening area together.
Completing the Form: Home Gardeners should download, complete, print and include this form.
If you’re considering planting different crops in your garden, be sure to indicate each of these under the section for Crop Codes. Naming your sample is important if you’re sending multiple samples at the same time.
Answers to Questions: Complete information on submitting the form and soil, and the time frame for results can be found on the Home Soil Testing Frequently Asked Questions page.
Soil tests are processed at the UNH Cooperative Extension’s facility in Durham. You can either deliver your sample/s in person or send them by mail. A sample of 1-2 cups fits easily inside the US Postal Service’s small Priority Box for easy mailing.
Here’s to testing your way to a happy, healthy garden this summer!