CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One mistake gardeners of all ability levels make is not testing soil. A soil test can reveal how much fertility is needed for optimum plant health and assist the gardener in growing the healthiest vegetables, flowers, lawns, trees and shrubs that they can.
Many people simply guess at whether their plants need fertilizer and lime, or ignore it altogether. This is a big mistake. Healthier plants will have better results, better results mean happier gardeners.
While there are soil-testing kits available at garden centers, I recommend the free soil testing service offered by WVU Extension Service. You only have to pay the postage to mail it to the lab.
The lab tests are more precise and accurate than kits, and the lab tests are specific to the soil types here in West Virginia. Plus, the test results come with specific fertilizer and lime recommendations based on the crop. It takes a few weeks to get the results, but it is definitely worth it.
To show you how much I think you should test your soil, if you drop your appropriately prepared soil test at my office by Sept. 30, I'll get it to Morgantown for you postage-free! You can find the forms at kanawha.ext.wvu.edu/agriculture/soiltest or stop by the office at Suite 101, 4700 MacCorkle Ave. S.E.
For the most accurate test, take several small samples from the area you are testing. Test each site that receives different treatment separately (front lawn vs. back lawn, vegetable garden vs. perennial bed etc.). Remove all of the foreign material (grass, sticks, rocks) from the samples and mix them all together in a clean container. Put about 1/2 cup of the soil into a clean plastic bag and attach it with a rubber band or staple with your completed form from the website above.
Another mistake gardeners make is waiting until spring to test the soil. Adjusting fertility and adding lime is often done best in the fall, giving the supplements time to work through the soil and be ready for gardening in the spring.
If you wait to test the soil the day before you garden, you won't have the results back before you begin gardening. Also, the nutrients from fertilizers will not be as available to the plant, or, worse, could burn plant roots if applied too close to planting.