Time to start preparing your spring garden

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 19, 2011

Before you know it spring will be here and you will be wishing you had started preparing your garden a little earlier. One of the most important steps you can take to start preparing your garden is to have your soil tested. Soil can be brought to your Parish LSU Ag Center Office to be tested. The Routine Soil Test costs $10. You will usually receive your results in 10-14 days.

A soil test will tell you what the pH is of your soil and what you may need to do to change your pH level. Most plants grow best in a pH range of 6.0 to 6.5. Soils that have not been limed for several years may have a pH well below 6.0 while some soils may actually have a pH of 6.8 or higher. Lime, which contains nutrients like calcium, phosphorous and magnesium, is used to raise the pH level, while sulphur is usually used to lower the pH level. It is important to get your soil tested early because if you need to add lime to increase you pH, it will take several months for the lime to break down to a form that can be used by the plants!

Most fertilizers that are used in the garden contain what are called complete fertilizers because they contain the three nutrients that plants use the most — nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. When you purchase a container of fertilizer, you should always look on the container, be it a box, a bag or a bottle, and see how much of each of these nutrients is contained in the fertilizer. The nutrient amounts are listed in percentages and always in the same order — nitrogen first, followed by phosphorous and finally potassium. A fertilizer listed as 13-13-13 would contain 13 percent nitrogen, 13 percent phosphorous and 13 percent potassium. I am sure that everyone remembers from school their chemical symbols from the Periodic Table –nitrogen is N, phosphorous is Ph, and potassium is K. Complete fertilizers may be sold in many different percentages like 0-24-24, 8-24-24, 8-8-8, etc. If you just need to add nitrogen, it can usually be purchased as ammonium nitrate or ammonium sulfate.

One key thing to remember about using fertilizer is that if you put too much nitrogen, you could possibly kill the plant, so make sure that you follow the recommended rates. Plants in the legume family such as clover, peas and beans have the ability to manufacture their own nitrogen on their roots, so these plants require less nitrogen than other plants.

You need to collect about one pint of soil for testing. This soil sample is taken from the top 4-6 inches of your soil. Be sure to remove any grass clippings, plant parts or woody materials. Do not collect soil when it is extremely wet! The key to taking a good soil sample is to make sure that you have a sample of soil that truly represents the soil in your garden. The best way to accomplish this is to take as many as five or more samples from throughout your garden area and place them all in a bucket. Then mix them up thoroughly and take out at least one pint of soil from the bucket and place it in a plastic storage bag or other container. Remember, you need at least one pint of soil for the test!

Bring your soil sample to your local Parish LSU Ag Center Office. LSU Ag Center personnel will

package your soil sample and have you complete a Soil Test Form

which includes your mailing address as well as information on what

type of plants or vegetables you

plan to grow. This form along with your $10 payment for each sample will be packaged with the soil and sent to the LSU Soil Lab where it will be tested. After the test is

complete the Soil Lab will mail or e-mail you a copy of the test results. Your local County Agent will also receive a copy of your soil test via the computer. If you do not understand the results of your soil test, you should call , visit or e-mail your County Agent and discuss the results with him. Your County Agent can help you to understand your test results so that you can get the most benefit from your garden. With a little help you can grow an abundance of vegetables in your garden!

David Pichon is a County Agent with the LSU Ag Center. He assists homeowners in St. Charles and St. John Parishes with their Home Gardens and Home Grounds. You can contact him by phone at 985-785-4473 or by e-mail at: dpichon@agcenter.lsu.edu.