A soil test can save you time and frustration in the long run

Published 3:57 pm Friday, January 13, 2017

By Ty Torrance

Last year you bought the best tomato transplants on the market, planted them in your yard, watered them regularly, fertilized them sufficiently, kept the weeds and insects away from them, but they did not provide you with the world’s best tomato.  If the pH of your soil was not in the optimal range, all of that money and hard work could have been for nothing. If the pH of your soil is too high or too low the plant cannot take up the nutrients that you are applying. The plant will look stunted, discolored, and will not produce normal fruit. For under $10 you can get a very comprehensive soil test report, that in the long run, can save a lot of time, money and frustration. 

The biggest problem I see is not under fertilization, but low pH levels that can easily be remedied with lime.  The example I like to use is the amount of fertilizer you waste when your pH is too low.  Most of our vegetables require a pH ranging from 6.0 – 7.0.   At a neutral pH (pH 7.0) we get 100 percent uptake of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium which are the backbone to most fertilizers.  If you let the pH drop to 6.0, which is still pretty good, we lose 19 percent of the fertilizer that we apply. If the pH drops to 5.0 you are losing over 50 percent of the fertilizer that you apply. 

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I see a lot of samples that have a pH below 6 and many that are closer to 5.  With a 50 lb. bag of 10-10-10 you basically waste half of every bag you use.  This is true for lawns, gardens, shrubs and food plots.  If you start to add it all up there is a huge potential to lose a lot of money just because you have a low pH.  The other benefit you get from a soil sample is a fertilizer recommendation specific to virtually any crop that you can grow in Georgia.  If you take samples often enough, you can get an idea of what is happening to the nutrients that you apply.

The best way to take a soil sample is to place an imaginary grid on your garden spot.  If you have a small garden I might collect soil from 8 different spots to represent your entire garden.  Place all of that soil in a clean bucket or container and mix it thoroughly.  From that bucket, take enough soil to fill our sample bags to the fill line.  That one sample should give you an accurate estimate of the soil pH and major nutrient levels in your garden.

So go ahead and get your soil sampled and apply lime if needed.  When spring comes around you will have already taken the first step towards a successful growing season.

Decatur County Extension Office: (229)-248-3033.