Fran Weber touts the benefits of soil analysis and even credits soil testing with helping her garden club achieve a prize-winning garden.
"The Spade and Trowel Garden Club adopted a large garden plot at the boyhood home of Woodrow Wilson about four years ago," said Weber. "Historic Augusta Inc. had solicited area garden clubs to adopt one of the several garden beds and submit a landscape plan using plant material typical of the time the Wilson's lived there. We submitted a plan using historically authentic plants and it was accepted."
Weber said before the club made a decision regarding plants they took soil samples and had them analyzed to determine what soil amendments were needed.
"Our garden did not include a lawn," she said. "Instead we chose perennials and bulbs. The garden plot we chose as our project was overgrown with weeds and other unwanted plants. Garden club members removed all the existing plant material first before adding the needed chemicals. These included lime, fertilizer, Kricket Krap and bags of good quality potting soil. Then, we planted according to our plan."
As a result, the club won two state awards that were presented at the Garden Club of Georgia State convention last May.
"I like to think that our garden has flourished because we had a soil analysis done and prepared the soil according to the recommendations before planting," said Weber.
Soil analysis reports include pH values, soil nutrient values and a bar graph representing the level of some of the soil nutrients found in the soil. Garden enthusiast Jacque Rees said the reports can be most useful in determining how much lime or sulfur needs to be added to the soil.
"While it is important to test your soil, this test doesn't need to be done every year," Rees said. "I test my soil every three years unless there is a problem with the plants. I've also used the over-the-counter test and have found them to be reliable, but they are under no circumstances a substitute for the soil analysis performed by a lab."
According to Rees, soil analysis reports give specific recommendations for the type of plant or crop that is listed on the submission form with the soil sample.
"It is important to take separate samples specific to a type of garden -- vegetable, shrub, tree, fruit tree, etc. -- so the technicians will be able to recommend applications for the plants being grown in that garden," said Rees.
The soil pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline the soil is. Soil pH directly affects nutrient value and can range from one to 14, with seven being neutral. Values less than seven indicate acidity, while values greater than seven indicate an alkaline soil. Most plants and crops do best in slight acidic soils.
For gardener Betty Crowther, a soil analysis helped determine that the soil itself wasn't the problem for a poorly producing plant.
"I had a soil sample done last year to see if I had nematodes or something nasty going on in my soil. I decided to have a soil test done because plants in a particular area were either dying or not doing well," said the Evans resident. "I took a soil sample to the Extension office."
A much simpler explanation -- root competition from a neighbor's sweet gum tree -- was the culprit. The tree was taking available water and nutrients from her perennials.
Soil samples can be taken to several area businesses for analysis by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. The cost is $8 per sample for a routine test and the turn-around time for results is typically a week. Sites include the Columbia County Extension Office, Brown Feed and Seed, Green Thumb West Garden Center, Grovetown Farm and Garden, Southern Landscape Garden and Gifts, and Ace Hardware in Evans.
In order to get an accurate analysis, however, it's important to use clean hands, clean digging tools and clean containers.
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