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Get soil tested, especially purchased soils

Don’t play the guessing game with your garden vegetables or yard for the upcoming growing season. Soil testing for your spring plantings and yard maintenance gives you the information needed to maximize your efforts and boost garden yields.

The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Agronomic Services Division encourages home and community gardeners and landscapers to submit soil samples during the non-busy season for faster turnaround times and with no peak-season fees. Soil samples will be analyzed free from April 1 until mid-November. For home gardens, early spring through early fall is an ideal time to submit samples for soil testing.

“Whether maintaining an existing lawn or landscaped area or planning a new garden, soil testing can help optimize growing conditions with recommendations for correct amounts of lime and fertilizer “said Jagathi Kamalakanthan, agronomist with the NCDA&CS soil testing lab.

With greater interest in home, urban and community gardens, there is an increased use of topsoil bought in bags or in bulk from garden centers to fill raised beds, she said.

“There are no regulations on what can be sold as topsoil, making soil testing a valuable tool in determining the actual fertility of these products,” Kamalakanthan said. “It is important to remember that low fertility can cause nutrient deficiencies, while too much fertility can be harmful to plants depending on what nutrients are too high.”

Some nutrients can be toxic to plants, and excessive nutrients, such as phosphorus, may be harmful to the environment if it moves to surface waters.

It is always a good idea to test topsoil before using it, whether it is native or newly acquired for a raised bed. If adding to existing soil, Kamalakanthan recommends thoroughly mixing topsoil well with the native soil to minimize drainage issues that may exist by layering one type of soil on top of another.

More information on topsoil can be found at www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/pdffiles/sfn14.pdf. Guidelines on collecting and submitting soil samples are available at www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/pdffiles/HomeApr2014.pdf.

Contact the Agronomic Services Division office at 919-733-2655 for questions regarding soil testing.

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