If you want your ornamentals, vegetables or shrubs and trees to be as healthy and productive as possible, you need to make sure the soil they grow in has the right nutrients and pH.
How to find out? Take a soil sample.
In Southeast Texas, gardeners can get help from our local Ag Extension office over at the Jefferson County Courthouse Annex. If you prefer, you can buy a kit from one of the local nurseries or hardware stores. The kits will give you a “rough idea” of soil conditions, but aren’t as accurate as laboratory testing, says Jefferson County Agent Micah Meyer. A&M labs also provide info on what and how much to add to amend soil.
To get one of the A&M kits, call the Extension office at (409) 835-8461 and they will send instructions along with the sample bag and order form. Box it up and send it on. Tests run from $10, which will tell you the pH and liming requirement, along with macronutrients NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous and potash or potassium). More specialized tests run up to $50. The test takes up to two weeks and if you have any trouble interpreting the results, call Micah and he’ll walk you through it.
I’ve heard that you can test ph by putting a soil sample in a bowl and adding a half-cup of vinegar. If the soil fizzes or bubbles, it's alkaline. If not, get another soil sample and add a half-cup of water, stir, and add a half-cup of baking soda. If it fizzes, it’s acidic. Personally, I’d go with the Aggies. I mean, how much fizz is considered fizzy? How much bubbling is acceptable? I don’t want to bake a cake; I want to know if my dirt is delectable – or lousy.
And for those who live in areas that had salt-water intrusion after the hurricane, the Ags are offering salinity testing at a greatly-reduced rate of $2 a sample. The test is only for people who had salt water intrude into their area, Micah stressed, so don’t participate if you are just curious.