Soil analysis – importance for your garden

Causal analysis provides absolutely no value judgment, but soil lab analysis does. – Max Weber
Soil analysis, how to determine fertilizers quantity needed

How do you know what kind of fertilizer should you use in your garden and how often? Do you choose “All-purpose fertilizer” or something like “Flower food”? If so, I did the same mistake. HOW WRONG I WAS. I really hope that your garden is soaring and such an approach works for you. But in my case, I lost a lot of beautiful plants I loved before getting on a right track. So here is my story with the conclusions.

After moving to a suburban house with my family, we decided to start gardening to have an eye-catching lawn with some trees, bushes, flowers and some vegetables. Actually, it was one of the reasons we moved there. I knew that we had clay soil so I planned to improve it by bringing more fertile soil and combine it together. To be honest, that cost us a piggy bank of bringing several trucks of new soil and spreading it across our land plot. But it completely satisfied my eye. The surface became dark and rich and we celebrated it as the beginning of our true village life.

Adding new fertile soil

We seeded grass, bought and landed several trees, a line of bamboos across the fence, some berry bushes and some strawberries. Proper watering and all-purpose organical fertilizers according to instruction on the bottle, some mulch to stop evaporation under the sun. We tracked our bamboo new leaves and how our grass was being germinated. Trees started to produce new sprouts and surface started covering with grass. We were full of dreams for the perfect garden. But at some point, we started noticing that it doesn’t grow as expected. Not all seeds of grass germinated and those that did – grew really slow. Thus I spent more time watering it manually (without having auto-watering installed). And it didn’t help too much. Then I spread more complex fertilizers for “green lawn”. It helped a little bit but not too much.
Moreover, some of my bamboos started to turn yellow without bringing new leaves to life. At this time I had a lot of work in my workplace so this is how my first season finished.

We’ve lost 9 bamboos out of 30

We had a hope that for next year everything will start a new life because this year was some kind of adaptation. But it didn’t happen. The lawn looked poor; we’ve lost 9 bamboos out of 30 (arguing with seedling seller sadly to confess). And we lost a cherry tree and two currant bushes. Being an engineer, I started blaming myself that I can’t properly handle garden because I’m not that kind of guy with no skills and this is not for me.
One day the wife wrote me a message that she found some lab that provides different analysis services including soil analysis. Her point was that we should use our last chance to save the garden.

On the next day, I’ve collected some of my soil from different places on my lawn, put it into a bag and sent for analysis. We ordered extended one to be sure that we’ve tried everything. I sent soil samples to that lab and turned on countdown hoping we would get at least some clue why our efforts were so ineffective.

It took 3 weeks before we’ve got results because simple analysis would take several days in comparison to extended one. My wife and I were afraid of one thing – if an analysis would tell us that we have proper soil. We knew that for such case we don’t have any backup plan. And we were thinking like “do we really want to know the result? what if…”. Finally, that day came. Email with an attachment reached my mailbox and we were already prepared for the worst case (we thought so). In the attachment, we found a lot of different numbers which didn’t say anything to us. I called to their consultant asking should we do something with the soil to make our grass turn green.

How can soil be so dark and visually rich but so barren?
So the answer was that our soil is close to sand speaking about fertilizers. Nitrogen was 5 times less than required, phosphorus 2 times less and potassium only 10% of what’s required for proper growth. WHAT??? How can soil be so dark and visually rich but so barren? To say that we were frustrated it’s to say nothing. We’ve lost one and a half season spending so many efforts, watering it continuing to seed new grass, tried different other ineffective methods, even caressing and speaking to trees and bushes seeing how they die. And that’s the real reason? … A lot of naked emotions. But! We’ve got an answer what to do. Our plan was to fertilize the soil iteratively every two weeks with a limited amount of mineral fertilizers – for quick soil healing. Such a plan was indulgent to our plants, and we were able to track results stopping when needed while tracking real results visually. And it worked for us. Here is the result after two first weeks we made the first feeding:

You can see that there are several yellow strips. It was my fault. When I strewed granules I did it unevenly and the places I didn’t cover enough are those yellow strips. But other parts back to life!!!! We were so happy to back to play. 

At the beginning of the post, I mentioned all-purpose nutrition and that it doesn’t always work as expected. As you might guess numbers that we received from a lab told us that we should use the specific combination of fertilizers to achieve balanced results. Because each specific soil is rich of something but missing some other nutrition. And that ratio should be taken into account when making a decision what fertilizers to use.

It’s a good practice to do such soil fertility measurements periodically

Knowing your soil fertility is an essential thing in your gardening journey. And soil analysis is the key. This should be done at least on an initial stage of your gardening experience or while curing it after reckless usage. But you could never know how much of recently added fertilizers were consumed by your garden and how much still lay untouched. Thus it’s a good practice to do such measurements periodically to have a properly. You can do such soil analysis sending samples to one of the nearest labs. For instance some colleges could do it for you.

But you can do testing by yourself as well. There are a ton of gardening kits out on the Internet some of them are working and some not. We would recommend using LaMotte Garden KitIt’s the most accurate test we know about and this one kit is enough to make 15-20 tests. You can watch a really useful video from Doc with the review and comparison (all creds to How To with Doc).  

If you want to dive deep into all the soil chemistry here is a good article.

And, by the way, here is how our lawn looked in 1.5 months after proper fertilization. That darker line in the top right corner it’s a trace after auto watering installation so don’t take it into account.

Lawn grass after proper fertilization

Have you had a similar experience? Do you still miss some soil puzzles? Please share your experience with us in comments below. And don’t forget to update your gardening tools.

Leave a Reply

Close Menu