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Designing Your Outdoor Space Part 2 - It All Starts With The Soil

Proper soil pH and nutrient level are one of the most overlooked areas during the design process but are critical to your success.

Did you know that there are labs in the area that will test your soil for you and give you recommendations as to what additives can be applied to modify the soil pH, structure, and composition? In fact, one of these labs and leading agricultural schools is located right here in Massachusetts. UMass Amherst provides many services in addition to soil testing that can be found on their website. These services are available to the professional landscaper and homeowner alike.

After last week’s article you should already be thinking of different areas that are often neglected in your own yard. Hopefully, you’re ready to make some changes.

One of the most misunderstood and most neglected areas of the landscape is soil quality and structure. This is the base for everything you will grow in the landscape, yet it is the last thing that most people think of. Without the proper nutrient balance and pH level in the soil prior to planting you may experience slow growth, improper development, and signs of nutrient deficiency such as Browning of the leaves.

This week, I'd like to run you though the steps to taking an accurate soil sample in your yard so that the proper amendments can be added prior to planting. Thus, ensuring that your soil has all it needs to produce a healthy green lawn, beautiful floral blooms or vegetables that your neighbors will marvel at by providing the plant with the nutrients it needs to survive and thrive all season long.

  1. The first step when conducting a soil test is to identify any areas in the land that are fairly uniform in texture and have similar drainage characteristics. You also want to be sure to not take any soil samples from a areas that may have been fertilized recently, or never fertilized it all, for that matter. Making sure that the soil samples are taken from similar areas will result in a much more accurate scope of the soil characteristics, including pH levels in nutrient levels essential to plant health.
  2. Soil samples should be collected to the full depth of the root system that you are thinking of planting. This can vary greatly. For instance, grass samples would only have to go to a depth of 3 inches. Trees and other shrubs may have to go as deep as 24 inches to get an accurate sample. Soil is made up of many different layers, so neglecting to go deep enough will result in incorrect test results.
  3. For each different area of your landscape that you would like to test, you should try to get at least 15 to 20 soil samples.
  4. Put the samples in a plastic bucket and mix the soil together. By mixing the soil you will be combining slight variations in the soil into one complete batch that the lab can test, giving you more accurate results.
  5. Each sample should measure approximately 1 cup of soil, put into a plastic sandwich bag and allowed to air dry.

The sample should be labeled as to the location in the yard and sent away for analysis. It is also helpful to list what species of plant you plan on using in each soil sample area.

Many labs will then give you recommendation as to how the soil should be modified through the use of amendments. Taking the time to complete these steps will give your plants a head start in growth and development and will limit the need for additional fertilizers.

Next week's article will provide more insight into different amendments they can be added to the soil in their effect on pH levels, and soil structure.

 

Questions or Comments regarding today’s column?  E-mail me at: jrocharz@welldonelandscapes.com.

 John Rocharz is owner of Well Done Landscapes of Lakeville, MA, and has over nine years of experience in the landscaping field, specializing in stone masonry and design. He is also an ICPI certified paver installer and a member of the organization of Massachusetts Landscape Professionals.

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