Here in Virginia the outdoor growing season is still more than 6 weeks away. Those of us who are planning for an abundant harvest have started some plants indoors and made a list of the seeds and plants we’ll be picking up in the coming weeks. We have an idea of where our plants will go, which ones will need extra care and which ones will amaze us with little or no help at all. Once soil temperatures and overnight lows permit planting, we’ll be ready, but what about the garden? Whether you are starting a new garden or using the same space you always plant, you won’t want to start without testing the pH of your soil.
Why test the soil? Adjusting pH to the proper level promotes healthier plants, bigger vegetables, and better blooms. Soil testing is easier than ever with all of the user-friendly soil test kits available now. For example, the SoilStick Starter Pack not only tests your soil but provides a chart that matches plants with their pH requirements and includes an amendment chart to help with raising or lowering your soil to the optimum pH level.
Optimum soil pH for most vegetables, fruits and flowers is around 6.5 (or slightly acidic), the ideal range for bacterial growth which promotes decomposition. Decomposition releases nutrients and minerals that are present in the soil making them available to the plants. That mid-range pH is also the ideal range for encouraging the growth of microorganisms in the soil that convert nitrogen in the air into a form plants can absorb. So, if the soil pH is out of balance and the nutrients and minerals are “locked up” plant growth may be restricted.
So, you have your soil test results. Now what? If your soil is too acidic, say below 6.0, you will want to neutralize soil pH by working in a ground limestone product like Espoma Organic Traditions Garden Lime. It is pelletized to spread easily and blend nicely with your garden soil. Keep testing the soil up until planting time and adding more limestone as indicated. If planting day is looming near and your test results are still unsatisfactory, try Hydrated Lime from Bonide. It works faster than typical ground limestone and can be used throughout the growing season.
To lower the pH of alkaline soils, compost and manures are the best materials to use. The benefits of compost are fabulous; it offers the soil a rich humus that provides nutrients to your plants and helps maintain evenly distributed moisture in the soil. Adding compost introduces beneficial organisms to the soil that help to aerate the soil, break down organic material for plant use and ward off plant disease. With compost your soil comes alive with everything it needs to produce that abundant harvest you expect.
Don’t have room to create your own compost? Many soil amendments produce similar results to compost. For example, Espoma Garden Tone is a quality blend of organic and inorganic nutrients designed to provide the proper growing conditions for tomatoes and vegetables. When possible, it is still important to blend organic matter including humus or peat moss into the top 4 to 5 inches of soil.
Whether you are starting a container garden for the first time or planting in the same garden you’ve used for years, now is the time to focus on the condition of the soil. Good soil condition includes achieving a good pH balance plus proper moisture retainers before the first plant goes in the ground. While the need for moisture control varies from region to region and is dependent on the climate, the soil pH varies from garden to garden and is dependent on you. It takes time to change the soil’s pH. Get growing!