When trees bud and Easter lilies bloom, homeowners turn energies into plush green yards and vegetable gardening. Many start fertilizing lawns and gardens without doing an important step – soil testing.
“If people are over fertilizing, that’s just wasteful and can harm the environment and cost money,” said Jeff Jones, horticulture and biology instructor at Surry Community College. “On the other hand, if they are under fertilizing, then their lawns and gardens are not reaching their maximum potential.”
Routine soil testing can help homeowners make the right decisions before fertilizing and planting, and it’s something they can easily do themselves. Soil test kits can be picked up at a local North Carolina Cooperative Extension. The kits are small boxes that will be sent to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
“The key is to take an aggregate sample of the areas you want tested,” said Jones. “For example, if you are wanting to soil test your yard, take 10-15 samples 6-8 inches in depth and mix them together in a bucket before pulling your sample. The same practice should be applied to a garden or landscape area. Just be sure to test the areas separately and send in a sample box for each.”
A shovel or soil corer can be used to take the samples. If you want to watch a quick video on how to use a soil corer, visit Surry’s Horticulture program on Facebook or Instagram @surryhorticulture.
Results should be back in a few weeks, so plan this time into a fertilizing and planting schedule. If you send a soil sample during April through November, no fee is charged. Samples sent December through March have to be accompanied with a $4 fee per sample.
“Plants have different nutrient requirements,” Jones said. “So, when you submit your samples, state what you want to plant. Then, you will get better feedback.”
Jones has students in HOR 166 Soils and Fertilizers and HOR 142 Fruit and Vegetable Production take soil samples of their personal planting areas as part of class projects. The students then learn how to understand the Agriculture and Consumer Services report and how to apply the recommended fertilizers. The Agriculture and Consumer Services has information on its website to help homeowners understand the reports and the local extension offices can help as well.
“You might also decide to take our classes at Surry Community College to better understand what you need to do to improve your yard, landscaping and gardening,” Jones said. “The soil report allows you to make informed decisions. A common mistake in the South is adding too much lime without doing any testing. If you lime too much, it’s not good for the environment, you are wasting money, and you could be increasing the pH levels too much. This is why soil testing is important.”
A well-balanced soil not only helps the plants, but serves as pest prevention. Jones goes into depth about pest management in HOR 164, a class specifically on this topic.
“If you have healthy soil, which leads to healthy plants, then you are minimizing your pest problems,” Jones said. “You are also giving your plants a better fighting chance.”
Surry Community College offers a certificate in sustainable horticulture that only requires six classes for completion and can be started in the fall or spring.
Registration for summer and fall classes begins April 3 for new students at the college. For more information, go to www.surry.edu or call (336) 386-3264.