I am continuing to highlight fall chores this week with a few thoughts about soil testing from our Horticulture expert Ward Upham. Soil testing is one of the most basic, but important items that you can do to help your landscape thrive. If you have your soil tested in the fall, you still have time to amend it before the winter freeze. This gives any added organic matter and minerals time to mix into the existing soil for a ready to plant area in the spring. Happy testing!
Though we often think of soil testing as a spring chore, fall can actually be a better time. Soil-testing laboratories are often very busy during the spring resulting in a longer turnaround from submission to recommendations. Also, soils in the spring are often waterlogged, making taking samples difficult. If your soil test suggests more organic matter, fall is a much better season because materials are more available than in the spring, and fresher materials can be used without
harming young tender spring-planted plants.
Begin by taking a representative sample from several locations in the garden or lawn. Each sample should contain soil from the surface to about 6 to 8 inches deep. This is most easily done with a soil sampler. Many K-State Research and Extension offices have such samplers available for checkout. If you don’t have a sampler, use a shovel to dig straight down into the soil. Then shave a small layer off the back of the hole for your sample. Mix the samples together in a clean plastic container and select about 1 to 1.5 cups of soil. This can be placed in a plastic container such as a resealable plastic bag.
Take the soil to your county extension office to have tests done for a small charge at the K-State soil-testing laboratory. A soil test determines fertility problems, not other conditions that may exist such as poor drainage, poor soil structure, soil borne diseases or insects, chemical contaminants or damage, or shade with root competition from other plants. All of these conditions may reduce plant performance but cannot be evaluated by a soil test.
Call “Kansas One Call” Before Digging
Most people don’t know what is buried under their property. Always call Kansas One Call before planting or setting fence. You may reach them at 811. Actually, people should never dig deeply enough by hand to hit a gas line while planting a tree unless a large tree spade is used. When hand digging, make the hole just deep enough so that the tree sits slightly above nursery level. To determine the depth of the hole, measure the distance from the root flare (point where trunk and roots
meet) to the bottom of the root ball. If the flare isn’t visible (very common), remove enough soil or media so that it is.
The width of the planting hole is also very important. It should be two to three times the width of the root ball. Loosening the soil outside the hole so it is five times the diameter of the root ball will allow the tree to spread its roots faster. (Ward Upham)
Alicia Boor is the Agriculture and Natural Resources agent for Barton County K-State Research and Extension. You can contact her by e-mail at email@example.com or calling 620-793-1910