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Coastal Gardens

Reading your soil test

By Bob Hearle

By now many of you have received your soil analysis from Clemson and are ready to discuss the results. FIRST I need to correct an error in the first column. The cost per sample is $6 and not $12. The waiting time has been 7-10 days. When you submitted your samples, you indicated what type of plants (vegetable garden, azaleas, etc) were found in the area of the sample. This is reflected on the report and was used for the recommendations. The first number in the report is the pH of the sample, an indication of how acidic or alkaline the soil is. pH has a range of 0-14 and anything less than 7 is acidic. Above 7 is alkaline and 7 is neutral. pH influences the availability of soil nutrients to be absorbed by the plant. Most plants/crops do best in pH 5.8-6.5. When the soil is too acidic you must raise the pH by applying limestone. If it is too alkaline you must use powdered sulfur to lower it. The amount is indicated in the report.

There are three primary nutrients utilized by plants and they are Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K). The three secondary nutrients are Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg) and Sulfur (S). There are also many trace micronutrients used by the plant but they are not addressed as separate nutrients. Nitrogen provides for “greening” of the plants. Phosphorous promotes flowering and fruiting. Potassium provides disease resistance and overall growth. When you purchase fertilizer you will see three numbers on the container. They represent the percent by weight of N, P, and K in that order. A bag labeled 10-10-10 has ten percent by weight of each of the three primary nutrients. My garden has excessive P and so I would choose a fertilizer such as 10-0-10 which has no P. Your recommended fertilizer application takes into account what you already have and what you need for that particular application.

The recommended rates are based on 1000 sq. ft. of area and you need to adjust that according to your area. The easiest way is to consider your beds as rectangles and measure the length (l) and width (w) . The area is simply found by multiplying the l x w. Example is a raised garden that is 8 ft long by 4 ft wide. The area would be 4 x 8 = 32 sq ft. Add up the area of all your square footage and purchase accordingly. Now is a good time to get to know your fellow gardeners and share the purchase as one bag is often more than you need.

For additional assistance with your report contact the Clemson Extension Home and Garden Information Center (HGIC) at 1-888-656-9988 Monday thru Friday from 9:00 AM to 1:00PM.

I trust you are perusing those catalogs looking for the next superstar for your garden. Enjoy and remember to check the soil, water and light (sun) requirements for your choices. The right plant in the wrong environment will not succeed. Most nurseries ship at the right time to plant in your area, but remember we can have frost into early April. Continue to check your seedlings for moisture and if they have begun to “sprout” you need to consider adding light to help them grow. There is still ample time to attend to your pruning needs and care for your tools including sharpening the blades, even on your lawn mower. Always keep in mind that green gardening is the wise choice, for the environment and the pocketbook. Speaking of pocketbook, my wife found an interesting book for those wanting to start a vegetable garden. It uses found at home and inexpensive materials. The book is titled LASAGNA GARDENING by Patricia Lanza. Once you read it the name will become obvious. It is published by Rodale Press and may not be in the bookstore but is available online. It begins by showing you how to build garden beds without expensive soil and goes on to discuss the secrets of growing crops. If you read it let me know your reaction.

That’s it for now. Bob Hearle Previous columns

  • Prune plants for health and to promote growth
  • Seed propagation
  • Introduction / Soil tests

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