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Vermont Garden Journal: Fall Soil Testing For A Healthy Garden

Testing your soil will give you a snap shot of your soil's mineral health.

With all the excitement of fall cleanup, planting and planning, one chore that's often overlooked is soil testing. Soil testing won't solve all your soil problems and may not even give you all the information you need for healthy soil, but it will give you a snap shot of your soil's mineral health. Also, if done every three to four years, it will show you how that health is changing.

Testing your soil now has advantages. There's less to do in the garden compared to spring, soil labs aren't as busy and you'll get a good accurate reading of your soil pH, organic matter and nutrient levels. While you can buy soil test kits, I like to send my samples to a professional lab. You get more accurate readings and you can test for specific issues such as heavy metals.

There are a few things to keep in mind when taking a soil sample. Send in separate samples for different types of plants. For example, collect a separate sample for lawns, vegetable gardens, orchards and specialty plants such as blueberries. When taking a sample, collect soil four-to-eight inches deep, depending on the crop, and take ten samples from around the crop you're testing. Mix them together and take a one-cup sample of the samples to test. In Vermont, send samples to the University of Vermont's Soil Lab. For only $14 per sample you can get pH, nutrient and organic matter levels analyzed with recommendations.

Fall is a good time to change the soil pH and nutrient levels, especially if you're adding organic fertilizers such as rock dusts and limestone. They'll have time to break down before next spring.

Now for this week's tip: wait to mulch over tender perennials, such as lavender, until the ground freezes. Mice and voles will have found their winter quarters by then.

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