When it comes to gardening and landscaping, the importance of healthy soil cannot be overemphasized. Soil is the canvas upon which your landscape is painted; it is the foundation of a healthy yard and garden. Without good soil, you will never have healthy, thriving and beautiful plants. Therefore, testing and maintaining your soil is a crucial part of having a vibrant landscape. However, many people are a bit concerned when it comes to testing their own soil. After all, how do you know you are doing it correctly? What are you looking for when you test soil? What should you do with the results you get from your soil testing?
Soil consists of three components: clay, sand and silt. Clay is heavy and holds water very well; it is composed of tiny particles. Sand, at the other end of the scale, is composed of large pieces through which water flows quickly. Silt is in the middle, with medium-sized particles that hold water moderately well. Your soil is some combination of these three components, plus organic matter, stones, and other parts.
You can easily determine what your soil composition is by running a simple test. Take a clean jar, dig a core sample (about three inches down) of your soil, and place it in the bottom of the jar. Now, add water, shake well, and leave undisturbed for 24 hours. The sand, silt and clay will settle into levels that you can see in the jar. Measure each level and divide by the total of the material, and you will have the percentage of that matter in your soil. The bottom layer is sand, the middle is silt, and the top is clay.
Once you have the percentages of your soil, you can refer to the soil textural triangle to determine your soil’s composition. This information can be helpful when you are purchasing amendments or when you are deciding on plants that will thrive in your soil.
Another test you may want to perform on your soil is a pH test. pH refers to how acidic or alkaline your soil is. pH numbers that are less than 7 indicate acids; those higher than 7 are bases or alkalines. The pH scale is measured from 0 to 14. Plants generally like a slightly acidic soil, with a pH of around 6.5, although some plants prefer other numbers. The good news is, once you know your soil’s natural pH, you can amend it by adding certain things.
In most cases, using a purchased soil testing kit or having a professional test your soil are the best options for homeowners. However, there are ways to test your soil quickly to get a ballpark estimate of whether your soil is too acidic or too alkaline. This can be a good starting point for a conversation with a professional or for seeking help from outside sources to create a balanced, healthy yard. However, there are ways to test your soil’s general pH without a test kit.
To do your own at-home test, gather a cup of soil from various parts of your yard. You should aim for a good mixture of soil rather than taking it all from one place, unless you are only interested in testing the soil in one spot. Divide your sample into two half cups. Mix the first half cup of soil with a half cup of household vinegar. If there is a fizzing reaction, the soil is probably alkaline. This means that the soil’s pH is probably more than 7 and will need acids added to it in order to bring it down to 6.5. If there is no reaction, add the second half cup of soil to a half-cup of baking soda. If there is fizzing, it probably indicates an acidic soil with a pH of less than 6.
These two tests, while not precise, will give you a good idea of what types of treatment your soil needs before you go to the expense of purchasing a test kit or having a professional do the work for you.
At Juniper Landscape Company, we are happy to answer questions for our customers about all aspects of landscaping, yard maintenance, and plant management. Give us a call today to learn more about how we can help you build, grow and maintain the outdoor spaces of your dreams!