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Past Articles Library | 3 Easy Gardening Tests that Anyone Can Do

Regardless of the level of gardening experience you may have, it is important to know your environment.  What do I mean by this is simple.  Well, let me tell you a story.  I had a gardening friend who got the “spring fever” bug.  In doing so, he felt the treatment was to plant something.  So out to the garden store he went.  While there he bought roses, bedding plants, a few trees, brambles, and even some containers.  When he got home, he had no plan.  He had no idea where to plant certain items nor did he know if his soil was conducive to these plantings.  Oh well, he thought, they are plants and they will grow anywhere.

The next day, he got gardening tools out of his gardening shed, gloves, and his plants.  But……….again he had no plan.  So instead of creating a beautiful rose garden or simple planting, his roses ended up filling up empty spaces in his landscaping.  Trees were placed in the lawn with haphazard care and brambles were arranged along his privacy fence, which was a great idea since the fence could double as a trellis. 

The bedding plants were split between the landscaped area and the containers that had been bought. 

The first week of planting, the plants looked wonderful but as the season progressed, problems seemed to pop up like dandelions in a lawn.  Roses were not blooming, trees appeared to stop growing, and the brambles were not leafing out.  What to do, what to do?  Well, my friend returned to the garden store and bought some fertilizer.  He felt feeding the plants was the answer.  He had come up with an answer before he knew the question. 

The story at this point may sound familiar and as you can imagine the story did not have a happy ending.  After spending a fortune on fertilizer, the plants that were planted that season never really met their potential and were eventually dug up. 

What a waste of time and money but you do not have to play out this same story this gardening season.  These 3 easy gardening tests can help you make education decisions about your garden space without spending a lot of money.

Soil Percolation Test

What is a soil percolation test and why is it important?  Well, a soil percolation test is one that tests how quickly water will percolate down through the soil.  This is very important especially if you have a very clayey or sandy soil. 

To do this test, you will first need to dig a hole but the depth of the hole will depend on the plant material you want to plant.  The goal is to see if water moves through the soil and testing that plant’s zone is very important.

Once you have your area mapped out, the next step is to dig the hole to that plant’s need.  It does not have to be a huge hole but one big enough that you can see the bottom.  Next, you will fill the hole with water.  Write the time down and revisit the area in an hour.  Continue to monitor and record the level of the water until the hole is empty. 

After the hole is emptied, you will have the knowledge as to whether that area has well-draining soil.  As a guide, if the water drains away after a few hours, you can guess that it is well-draining.  On the other hand, if the water takes several days then you have poorly draining soil.

Soil Ribbon

This is a three step process but before you begin the process make sure the soil is dry. 

The first step of this process is to dig up some soil and feel it.  A soil high in clay will feel sticky.  Silt will feel smooth while sand will fill gritty.  Once you have done that test, the next one is the ball test.  To do this, one will need to dig up some soil and squeeze it into a ball.  Fine soils that have a lot of clay will not break up once the ball is released.  Sandy or silt loams will not break apart but will change shape.  Soils that have a lot of sandy or are sandy loams will fall apart. 

The last test is the soil ribbon test.  This is easily done by first digging up some soil.  Once you have some soil, you will need to moisten it a little bit.  This is the hardest part of this process since you do not want the soil to be too moist.  After the soil is moist enough to work, form a ball and then begin to form a ribbon by pushing it between your thumb and index finger.

If your ribbon rolls out to less than an inch, you have sandy soil.  If you can get a ribbon that is one to two inches in length then you have a fine to medium texture soil.  On the other hand, if the ribbon is longer than two inches then you have a clayey soil.

Soil Texture

Another approach to use to find out what kind of soil you have requires one to have a jar, soil, and dish soap.  To begin this process, one will dig up some soil and place it on a tray to dry.  While it is trying, pick through the soil and remove stones, trash and anything that is not soil related.  Crush the soil so that it is as fine as possible.

Once the soil is dry, fill the jar one-quarter full with the soil.  Next, add water to the jar so that it is ¾ full.  At this point, add one teaspoon of powdered dish soap and place the lid on the jar.  Shake the jar for 10 to 15 minutes and then place in a location where it can sit for a couple of weeks.

Sand, silt, and clay will layer out according to the size of the particles.  The first particle that will layer out is sand.  In doing so, after one minute you will need to mark the container.  After two hours, you will see another layer forming.  This is the silt layer and it will also need to be marked.  The last layer that will settle is the clay and that can take several days to appear.  Once that has happened, mark the container.

Now, measure the height of the soil in the container.  From this, you will take the measurement of the sand and calculate the percentage.  Repeat for the other layers and once that is done, you can take the percentages and a soil texture triangle to figure out what type of soil you have.

As simple as these three tests are, they can provide you invaluable information about your garden environment.  This, in turn, can save you money, time, and make you a better gardener.


 
 








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Gardening-tip:



Keep Seedlings Moist

When you have just planted seeds, keep the soil moist until germination.

If the soil dries out, the seeds will die.

After germination, allow the soil to dry out a bit between waterings, but keep a close eye on the seedlings until they are well established.


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