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Home improvement: For best results, get your soil tested

By Darrell Blackwelder

For the Salisbury Post

Home gardeners often lament that they cannot get their lawns, blueberries or tomatoes to grow despite following recommended growing practices.

When asked about a soil test, 99 percent of homeowners have never had their soil tested. They’re simply guessing as to the plants’ nutritional needs. If one nutritional element is askew, most plants will not grow to their potential.

One of the best methods to improve your landscape and gardens is to periodically have your soil tested. Soil testing determines the exact nutritional requirements of your plants without waste or implementing the wrong fertilizer.

For example, those attempting to produce very specific plants, such as blueberries, should have their soil tested before planting to determine soil acidity. Blueberries are one of few plants that do best in acid soils. Gardeners fail to have a soil test so they end up guessing about fertilization. Guessing the soil’s fertility needs often wastes time, money and effort, as well as endangering the environment with over-fertilizer applications.

The soil testing itself is provided by the N.C. Department of Agriculture (NCDA).  Small samples of soil from your lawn or garden are mailed or shipped to the NCDA soil testing lab in Raleigh.  The test results are important because it will provide you with the exact nutritional levels needed for optimum plant growth for specific plants from forages to roses.

The tests provide the gardeners with information that includes almost every nutrient level, including pH, as well as the soil classification and percent humus matter.

The testing lab then uses the information from your soil test and determines exactly which nutrient and how much is needed for optimum plant growth levels.

For example, if a homeowner wants to produce heirloom tomatoes, the soil test recommendation will provide information on the nutrient deficiency levels of fertilizer (elements) needed to achieve best growth.

Soil test kits are available from Cooperative Extension on Old Concord Road in Salisbury for both homeowners and commercial growers. The N.C. Department of Agriculture charges a nominal $4 fee for testing, Dec. 1March 31, however, from April 1-Nov. 30 soil testing is a free service.

The kit consists of a small cardboard box and information sheet that must be mailed or shipped together. The homeowner is responsible for mailing or shipping these samples directly to the NCDA agronomic lab in Raleigh for analysis.

All the information for collecting, packing and shipping are available with the information sheets. The NCDA Soil Test Labs also allow you to go online and enter your data information and pay with a credit card if you wish.

Your soil test results will be emailed to your home within a few weeks. Cooperative Extension agents are readily available to help homeowners interpret sample information if needed at 704-261-8970 or email https://rowan.ces.ncsu.edu/.

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