agriculture

DIY: At Home Soil Tests

Testing Your Soil: Texture and pH Level

By: Lauren M. Liff for Dabah Landscape Designs

 

            The soil in your garden is extremely important to your plants: it provides nourishment during the growing season, protects the roots in the winter and allows them to grow and reach their full potential. Testing your soil regularly can help ensure that the plants in your garden are happy and healthy year round. Knowing what type of soil is in your landscape and knowing the pH level of that soil is more important than most people would think. The pH level of your soil effects what nutrients are present and how available they are for your landscape plants. Although soil tests are usually inexpensive, it does require money nonetheless – not to mention time to receive your results. In this article I’m going to explain a step-by-step method to test your soils pH level and texture without a kit. With this DIY soil test you’ll be able to learn what amendments you need to make to provide your plants with a healthy soil environment and allow for maximum plant growth.

            The pH level of your soil is key; when the pH level rises, nutrients like phosphorus and iron (for example) become less available. When the pH level drops, you run the risk of your soil becoming toxic and causing harm to your plant material.  Each plant has a preference in terms of the pH level of the soil; most plants do well in a slightly acidic environment with a pH of 6.0 – 6.5. Some plants however, like hollies and azaleas, thrive in a more acidic environment. Knowing the acidity level of your soil will help you to identify and fix any deficiencies that may be present.  This DIY pH test is very simple: all you need is vinegar, baking soda, distilled water and of course, soil!

Step 1: Collect 1 cup of soil – for the most accurate results collect samples from different spots in your garden. Try to dig at least 6 inches down to collect your samples.

Step 2: Mix your soil samples together thoroughly; get two empty containers and put 2 teaspoons of your soil sample into each container

Step 3: Add a ½ cup of vinegar to one of the cups of soil

**If the mixture starts to fizz then you have alkaline soil – a pH between 7 and 8**

Step 4: Add distilled water to the other container of soil – enough to make the soil muddy

Step 5: Add a ½ cup of baking soda to the muddy mixture

**If the mixture starts to fizz then you have acidic soil – a pH between 5 and 6**

**If your soil doesn’t fizz at all in either container then the soil is neutral with a pH of 7**

 

            Now that we know roughly the pH level of your soil, let’s take a look at the soil texture. Soil is made up of 3 main components: clay, sand and silt. Knowing the texture of your soil will show you how your soil absorbs water and what you will need to use to amend it (compost, mulch, or manure for example).  The ideal mix of these 3 components would be: 20% clay, 40% silt and 40% sand – this would be considered a loam soil which is the ideal soil texture. All you need for this soil texture test is a clean jar with a tight lid (a pint or quart mason jar works the best), water, dish soap and soil. 

Step 1: Collect soil samples from your garden (if you did the pH test you can use the leftover soil) – and using a mason jar, fill it halfway with soil.

Step 2: Fill the jar with water so that it is about ¾ full then add in a teaspoon of liquid dish soap.

Step 3: Tighten the lid and shake the jar for several minutes to mix up the particles.

Step 4: Put your jar aside and let it sit for several hours to give the particles time to settle

Step 5: Use the soil textural triangle to calculate your gardens' soil texture

 

            The particles will separate into layers: the heaviest particles will sink to the bottom – this will be the sand layer, next will be the silt layer, and on top will be the clay particles. Any organic matter in the soil will float to the top of the jar. The color of the soil itself will tell you about the organic matter content of your soil. Lighter soils have less organic matter and darker soils will warm up faster in the spring. 

            The longer you wait for soil test to settle, the more accurate your reading will be. When I did this test I left my soil sample to sit for just about 24 hours and then took the reading the following afternoon. You can use a ruler to measure your layers: take the measurement of each layer and divide it by the measurement of all 3 layers combined and multiply by 100 to get the percentage. You can use a permanent marker to mark off the layers to make the measuring a bit easier. Once you have your percentages, you can use the soil textural triangle (pictured below) to decipher what kind of soil you have; simply plot your percentages on the triangle to find your exact soil texture. Once you have found your soil texture, you will be able to plan a course of action to amend it (if needed).

 

            Based on your soil pH reading and the results from your texture test you will know what amendments need to be made to ensure that your soil is as healthy as it can be for your plants. You can test your soil yearly if significant amendments need to be made or you can test it as needed. If you do decide to test your soil regularly, it’s best to test it in the fall and any amendments you need to make should be done in the spring. These tests are very easy to do and will tell you a lot about your garden; the more you know about your soil, the easier it will be to provide your plants with the healthiest growing environment. 

The 'What' and 'How' Behind Landscape Design

Landscape Design: More Art than Science

By: Lauren M. Liff for Dabah Landscape Designs

 

            Almost everyone can appreciate a well-designed landscape but chances are that most of them believe that landscape design is merely putting plants in the ground. Truth is, landscape design is so much more than it appears to be. As landscape designers it is our duty to explain to you what exactly landscape design is and what it entails. Landscape design is an art form; it is where nature, culture and vision are combined to transform a property into a functional, creative and beautiful outdoor space.

            To put it simply, landscape design is the practice of putting together a plan that best utilizes an outdoor space in the most beautiful way. Designing a property takes time, energy, imagination, creativity and lots and lots of planning. Landscape design is broken down into two categories: softscapes and hardscapes. Softscapes encompasses all of the plant materials used in the landscape whereas hardscaping pertains to the stonework that is implemented into the design (such as rock walls, walkways, patios and more).

            There are 4 main principles when it comes to landscape design: proportion, order, repetition and unity. Proportion refers to the size of an object in relation to others in the landscape – this is more commonly used when implementing hardscapes into the design. Orders refer mainly to organization and balance in the landscape; this is very important when designing a space with plant materials. Repetition is used to create a familiar pattern and feel to the landscape – a landscape designer will repeat the use of certain plant materials or elements throughout the design. The last principle is unity; this refers to the flow of the landscape. Landscape designers want to ensure that all materials used in the project work together to create a theme, style or specific atmosphere that best reflects the clients’ personality and vision.

            Landscape designers are professionally trained to apply their extensive knowledge of space theory, design principles and the “right plant, right place” concept to best utilize any outdoor space. “Right plant, right place” refers to choosing the correct plant material for the specific site conditions. Soil conditions, amount of sunlight, drainage conditions, wildlife and watering practices are just some of the things that are taken into consideration when selecting the plant material for a project. Landscape designers have an extensive horticultural knowledge base, making them the “go-to” plant experts. Where a plant should be placed, how it should be maintained and how to manage pests and diseases are only a few of the questions professional landscape designers can easily answer.

            Aside from the aesthetics and horticultural knowledge – to ensure the functionality of the design, a landscape designer will take into account the spaces that are used, the clients’ lifestyle and the constantly changing needs of the clients’ home. A landscape designer will use their knowledge and ideas to help a client realize factors that they might not have considered previously. Each project is overseen by the designer, from the initial consultation to the completion of the project – they want to ensure that the completed work exceeds expectation and that the clients’ dream landscape has become a reality.

            When designing an outdoor space, designers take into consideration the clients’ budget and vision, site conditions, amount of usable space and the use of appropriate plants and other materials. Most people rush straight into the installation and construction phase of an outdoor design, without taking these important factors into account. This leads to a project that costs more than what they wanted to spend, more work than they wanted to do and a project that most likely will provide a less than acceptable end result. This is why hiring a professional designer comes in handy; they take all aspects of the job site into account to design and install a breathtaking one-of-a-kind creation. In a time and cost effective manner, landscape designers can transform an ordinary outdoor area into an extraordinary work of art that can last for many seasons to come.

http://apldca.org/what-is-landscape-design/

https://www.landscapingnetwork.com/landscape-design/principles.html

http://cislandscaping.com/what-is-landscape-design-and-why-do-you-need-a-landscape-designer/