EcoBlog

The latest thinking on ecological landscapes. Useful tips to improve our environment

Kim Eierman

Kim Eierman

Founder of EcoBeneficial!

Available for virtual and in-person landscape consulting, talks and classes.

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It All Starts With the Soil: Preparing the EcoBeneficial Garden

A flourishing garden begins with healthy soil –  it’s your ecological starting point.  A simple soil test will help you determine key things like:  what plants will thrive in your garden (and what won’t), whether you have heavy metals or toxins in you soil (important to know if you are growing edibles), and how much organic matter your soil has (vital for many woodland plants). Armed with this information, you can make better planting decisions and have greater gardening success.

Most gardeners and landscapers skip the very important step of doing a soil test, perhaps because they don’t know how easy it is to do.  There are soil test kits for home use, but why not let the experts do it for you? Most counties have a cooperative extension service offering inexpensive soil tests (under $15).  Usually the instructions and forms can be found online. Plan on doing a soil test in the spring, after the ground has thawed out, but when the soil is not too wet.

After you send in your soil sample you should receive the results within a few weeks.  Here are just a few things to look for:

-The pH (acidity/alkalinity) level of your soil.
If your soil has a neutral pH of 7.0, you will then know to grow plants which like that level. You will also know not to grow plants which demand a very acidic soil, like blueberries, which need a pH of about 5.0 or less. You might choose the option of growing blueberries in a container where you can control the pH of the soil.

– High levels of heavy metals or toxins in your soil.
This is a red flag for growing edibles – use raised beds or containers. In non-food gardens, consider using native plants that are great at sucking up toxins. Our native goldenrods, for example, excel at sucking up heavy metals.

– The level of organic matter in your soil.
This is key, if you live in an area with native plants which require rich soils, including many of our woodland plants. By adding compost and compost tea to your soil, you can increase the soil organic matter over time to get closer to the 10% target.

Soil tests are best for understanding what type of soil you have, and what you can grow well in that soil. Unless you live on a Superfund site, don’t try to drastically “re-invent” your soil. For example, don’t try to turn an acidic soil into an alkaline soil.  Respect your native soil and focus on improving it gradually over time.

Happy Soil Testing from Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial !

Photo:  Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)
Photo Credit: Flickr/Nicholas T
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