What can you expect from a soil test

Soil testing is an essential part of keeping raised garden beds healthy

You may have heard that soil testing is an important part of keeping your raised garden beds healthy. A soil test will tell you how healthy your soil is and how to improve it. Specifically, soil tests tell you the health of your soil by indicating the acidity and nutrient levels in the soil. Nutrients measured include phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur and other trace elements. Soil tests can also provide information on potentially harmful elements in the soil, including lead, aluminum, and salt.

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Test soil pH

Testing the pH of your soil will tell you if your soil is acidic, neutral or alkaline. A pH of 6.0-7.0 is suitable for most garden plants. A pH of 5.5-6.5 is suitable for your lawn. If your soil is too acidic for the plants you want to grow, the roots of the plants won't absorb certain nutrients as easily. If your soil is too alkaline for the plants you want to grow, then you may also have problems with certain nutrients becoming less and less available to the plants. This is more likely to happen with acid-loving plants, such as blueberries.

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Even if your soil pH is within an acceptable range, you may still have problems with the levels of certain nutrients. The "Big Three" Nutrient Nitrogen is one of the most important nutrients for plant growth. If you do implement nitrogen, remember to use split fertilization by adding fertilizer at different stages. The reason is that the soil does not hold nitrogen well. The second of the "big three" nutrients, phosphorus helps plants use the energy produced by photosynthesis. Phosphorus deficiency can result in slow growth, weak root systems and low fruit yield. The third of the "big three" nutrients, potassium, helps plants use nitrogen and water efficiently. Potassium deficiency can make plants susceptible to disease. If levels are below 250 pounds per acre, potash may be recommended.

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Calcium is necessary for healthy plant cell walls and proper fruit and root formation. Many gardeners are familiar with bloom rot, which is caused by a calcium deficiency in fruit trees. To add more calcium to the soil, you can add lime or gypsum. If your soil's pH is too low, you'll add lime anyway. Even if you have a lot of calcium in your soil, your plants will still be deficient in calcium.

Magnesium is the central atom in the chlorophyll molecule, so you can imagine how important it is to plant growth. Be careful with too much magnesium in your soil, it will prevent your plants from absorbing calcium, even if there is a lot in the soil. To add more magnesium to the soil, you can use dolomitic lime or laxative salt. Laxative salts replenish magnesium and sulfur in the soil. As with calcium, plants can be deficient in magnesium even when soil levels are adequate.

Sulfur is necessary for photosynthesis and nitrogen fixation. Elemental sulfur is a way of supplementing the soil with sulfur, which also lowers the pH and makes the soil more acidic. If your soil pH is too high, you'll add sulfur anyway.

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Organic matter is just matter that contains carbon. Mostly, this means composted or decomposed organic matter, which also provides nutrients in a form that plants can absorb. Compost can be made from manure, grass clippings, fallen leaves, sawdust and fruit or vegetable scraps. The optimum amount of organic matter in the soil depends on the type of soil itself. The ideal range can be from 2% all the way up to 8% organic material. Some toxic metals, such as aluminum and lead, can be harmful to plants and humans. This is a problem if the lead content exceeds 300ppm. Plants such as beets, carrots, and lettuce are very sensitive to aluminum in the soil. Aluminum becomes more soluble as soil pH decreases, so high levels of aluminum in soil are more harmful to plants.