With the growing season winding down, it’s hard to start thinking about what needs to happen for next year, but now is the perfect time to do so. Taking a soil sample now will allow you to correct nutritional and pH issues by giving the soil three to four months to adjust to the amendments that are recommended on the soil report.
For example, your soil report may recommend adding lime to raise the pH. Most soils in North Carolina are acidic and hang out around a pH 4.5-5.5, which can be a problem for most plants, including causing a nutritional deficiency. Aside from blueberries, azaleas, and a few others, most plants prefer a pH around 6.0, meaning we have to raise the pH with a soil amendment such as lime. While lime is effective, it can take over 3 months to do so—so the sooner you can get it going, the sooner your plants can receive the benefit.
Another recommendation may be for nutrients. Any compost or slow-release fertilizer will get the job done, but if you are starting a new bed, it’s good to work it into the soil a week to 10 days ahead of schedule. This positions nutrients where they will be available for root uptake and gets your plants off to a good start.
A soil test is also specific to what crop or plant you want to grow. You can choose from lawns to trees to fruits and vegetables, all of which have slightly different requirements, so the recommendations you receive will be tailored to what you are trying to grow.
Soil sample boxes and forms can be picked up at your local Cooperative Extension office and your horticulture agent can help you interpret your results and dig into deeper detail about your recommendations. Soil testing is also free until Thanksgiving Day, so be sure to stop by and grab a box before the season runs out!
Selena McKoy is the Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Harnett County.