Test your soil in early winter for a happy, organic, spring garden.

You’ve harvested your garden and composted any leftover debris. Aside from maybe a rake, you’ve put away your tools for the winter and are enjoying a cup of hot chocolate on the couch. But hold up a minute. There are a few tasks you might have missed that will help you out in the spring and will eliminate the need for synthetic fertilizers and weed killers.

Soil Sampling

At the end of a growing season, especially if you are using raised garden beds, you will have depleted the soil of much of its nutrients. Instead of throwing in some synthetic fertilizers in the spring, get the dirt on what’s lacking in your dirt. A common practice for farmers, soil sampling can also by utilized by home gardeners when amending soil. Especially if your harvest hasn’t been as abundant as you’d hoped, lack of nutrients or the wrong pH could be the problem.

To check your soil, take several random samples with a garden trowel, down about 6 inches deep. Mix the samples together in a clean bucket and then pour 1 to 2 cups into a soil sample bag or box. If you have turf grass that isn’t as lush as you’d prefer, you can also test the soil in your yard to see what amendments are needed. Send the sample off to your local cooperative extension office for analysis. Often the bag or box can be obtained from them as well. The results will tell you what soil amendments should be added.

Too acidic

If results show that your soil is low in pH, lime is the go-to amendment. After lime is applied, it can take up to six months for the lime to fully raise the pH of the soil. Applying lime in the fall will ensure that the pH is correct in time for a spring planted crop.

Too alkaline

Clay soils and arid climates often mean that the pH is too high. Apply elemental sulfur and iron sulfate. The rate will dependent on your soil type, and the extension office that tested the soil should provide recommendations.

Lacking organic matter

If your soil is depleted of organic matter, mulch your garden beds with leaves. Free and beneficial to your yard and garden, leaves deserve more than to be piled in the street for pickup. Start with a layer of crunched up leaves over the surface of your garden and then add a second layer of whole leaves. The finer leaf layer will break down over the winter and early spring to add nutrients into the soil. The larger leaves will prevent spring grasses and weeds from taking root, but don’t break down as quickly. In the spring, plant starts directly into the garden bed with the leaves still in place. If the soil is particularly barren, or if you are planting from seed, add a layer of fresh dirt and compost over top of the leaves and let them continue to break down underneath.In your yard, don’t remove all the leaves when raking your grass. Mow them into fine pieces and let them decompose over the winter to add nutrients to the soil.

Happy soil sampling!

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