garden maintenance

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. 

Your Hydrangea isn't Blooming? Here's Why!

Question and Answer: Why isn’t My Hydrangea Blooming?

By: Lauren M. Liff for Dabah Landscape Designs

            Hydrangeas are one of the most popular flowering shrubs used in a typical New Jersey landscape due to their beautiful color variations, attractive foliage and of course their unique flower heads. However, one of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to these plants is: “why isn’t my hydrangea blooming?” The reason behind whether or not your hydrangea is blooming depends on what variety you have as some of them will grow flowers on old growth, where others will grow their flowers on new growth. Let’s get to the bottom of this dilemma so you won’t have to ask: “why isn’t my hydrangea blooming?” anymore!

            There are six common types of hydrangeas commonly seen in North American gardens: Bigleaf, Panicle, Smooth, Climbing, Mountain and Oakleaf. It’s always important to know if the variety of hydrangea that you have blooms on new wood or on old wood – knowing this detail effects when to prune your hydrangea. Incorrect pruning habits are one of the main reasons behind hydrangeas not blooming. 

Bigleaf

Bigleaf

Panicle

Panicle

Smooth

Smooth

Climbing

Climbing

Mountain

Mountain

Oakleaf

Oakleaf

            The Bigleaf hydrangea seems to be not only the most commonly purchased hydrangea but also the one that seems to raise the most concerns when it comes to blooming.This species is a little confusing because it creates a lot of cultivars that can die back to the ground especially when there is a harsh winter – since they bloom on old wood, you can see how this might cause a problem. However, it is also possible that you’ve selected a variety that doesn’t do particularly well in your zone. You can help your hydrangea by protecting it in the winter, for example by mulching around the base of the plant to cover the root zone.

            Another reason as to why your hydrangea won’t bloom is the possibility that you pruned it too far back the year before. If hydrangeas are over pruned in the summer they will die back farther than they usually would leading to a skipped year of blooming. The safest way to avoid this issue is by only pruning your hydrangea in early spring – that way it is easy to differentiate between old wood and new wood. You should pay attention to what kind of hydrangea it is and how far back it died the previous year, that way you will know what and how much to prune back.

            Over fertilization can also cause hydrangeas not to bloom. You can take a soil sample for testing to find out when you fertilized last and what levels of nutrients are in the soil. The soil having too much nitrogen or not enough phosphorus could cause the hydrangeas not to bloom. Nitrogen is the nutrient responsible for lush green growth; too much nitrogen means a very thick green plant with little to no blooms.  Phosphorus aids in the fruiting and flowering of the plant, therefore the less phosphorus there is in the soil, the less blooms you will have. You can help correct this by adding a phosphorus-rich fertilizer or bone meal to the soil.

            Hydrangea blossoms are incredibly showy and beautiful to say the least. So when your hydrangea isn’t blooming it is quite easy to notice. Even though this is a very common concern among hydrangea admirers, it is a solvable problem. By following the suggestions that we have mentioned in this article you can aid your hydrangea in staying happy and healthy and pushing out those absolutely stunning flowers.

 

https://www.provenwinners.com/Hydrangeas-Demystified

https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/shrubs/hydrangea/hydrangea-not-blooming.htm