Soil testing

Joined
Feb 5, 2017
Messages
4
Reaction score
0
Location
East Texas
Hardiness Zone
9a
Country
United States
In 2015 I planted a flower bed along the west side on the house filled with azaleas, gardenia and caladiums. It was beautiful the first year. Come the spring of 2016 I was super excited to see it come back. After all that work put in the year before, having a flowerbed come back with minimal work seems, to me that is, the best reward in gardening.

I was so disappointed. My gardenia bushes died. Caladiums never came back. And now I notice that the leaves on my azaleas are tiny!!!! The only thing that remotely looks like it did when I planted it, is the monkey grass..... sigh.

So this year I wanted to start off the spring armed with knowledge that would make my certain situation of soil and light and water work best for me. So I decided to do a soil pH test. I live in East Texas. 7 out of 10 trees are pine trees. I thought for sure my soil would be acidic, perfect for all that I had planted. UMMMMM..... surprise..... no. It tested at an 8, alkaline. Not only that but two out of the other three didn't even register.... as in there is little to no Phosphorous or Nitrogen. As for Potash, it reads as low.

Any methods or products that anyone would like to share would be greatly appreciated on how to get better readings.

https://goo.gl/photos/MNW9czuFZRHMKMxX8
 
Joined
Jan 5, 2017
Messages
1,462
Reaction score
1,314
Location
Atlantic Beach, Fl
Hardiness Zone
9a
Country
United States
A few thoughts:

1. The acidic properties and their effect on the environment of pine trees is way overstated. Using pine mulch will not add more acid to your garden. More on that.... http://www.gardenmyths.com/pine-needles-acidify-soil/

2. I don't trust those store-bought soil test kits. Having said that, I think what probably happened here is that your soil was adequate in the first year planting; however, after that year the plants probably used up much of the nutrients in the soil, making it tough for the survival of plants. BTW, there are ways to get your soil tested professionally, I've never done it, but I know others here probably can elaborate on that, here are some links that may help: https://www.google.com/#q=free+soil+testing+texas

3. I can't recommend any soil amendments, since I've never used them; I collect leaves and stuff left on the curb for pick up, along with composting my kitchen/yard waste into my gardens. I also cut down old plants (leaving the root system in the ground) to add the the mulching of the garden. And now I'm experimenting with cover crops to add N2 into the soil. Those are things you can do to build up the soil, without buying soil amendments, plus the mulching provides habitat for many insects, including ladybugs and worms...
 
Last edited:
Joined
May 4, 2015
Messages
2,441
Reaction score
1,468
Location
Mid Michigan
Hardiness Zone
5b
Country
United States
UT must have an extensive Master Gardener program. Here, MSU does; they have a booth at the farmers market or you can send them soil samples. It's about $20.
I've never done it, but definitely look for the website, it should be really informative.

Also, you pretty much can't go wrong with heavy mulching; any organic material that will break down in the soil will be helpful! I mulch everything with wood chips, straw, dry leaves, and some compost dug in every spring.
 
Joined
Feb 2, 2014
Messages
11,476
Reaction score
5,561
Location
La Porte Texas
Hardiness Zone
8b
Country
United States
I have never seen a DIY soil test that was accurate. If you want to know what is lacking, what is in abundance, what your plants are able to uptake or unable to, anything related to soil and its composition go to these people.

http://texasplantandsoillab.com/
 
Joined
Feb 5, 2017
Messages
4
Reaction score
0
Location
East Texas
Hardiness Zone
9a
Country
United States
I did mulch... and that brings me to another question. I left 2015's mulch in the bed and added new in the 2016. During the summer, when Im realizing that none of the caladiums are not coming back, I notice the mulch is compacted in a way. Like the under layer. So where did I mess up here? Should I have removed old before adding new? Should I have "stirred" it? I used the standard pine mulch from lowes. Not the shredded, the larger chunks.
 
Joined
Feb 5, 2017
Messages
4
Reaction score
0
Location
East Texas
Hardiness Zone
9a
Country
United States
I also get that the at home testing kits are not going to be as accurate as one would like, and im not wanting exact measurements, just a jumping off point. So I think I will do an experiment and test store bought potting soil and see how it reads and measures up. Yall have peaked my interest.

I also want to start my own compost, but like I said I have all pine trees or alike... minus 2 sweet gums and one old red oak. But they are surrounded by pines.... I would never be able to keep all the pine straw out....
 
Joined
Jan 5, 2017
Messages
1,462
Reaction score
1,314
Location
Atlantic Beach, Fl
Hardiness Zone
9a
Country
United States
You can have too much mulch, especially if it's walked on and smashes it down, making it difficult for water it get to the bottom (water is key to decomposition, i.e. building soil). However, I tend to think you don't have too much mulch; you don't want to remove old mulch, because it has tons on organisms on it now and you'll basically be starting over. The mulch itself doesn't build soil, it's the organisms that decompose it that build the soil, using the mulch, in other words, soil is not much more than the crap of numerous organisms.

Personally, I tend not to like one type of mulch, this video explains exactly why I like various materials for mulch, starting at the 3-minute point:

One misunderstanding about mulch is that it traps moisture in the soil, but this is an overstatement and in many cases is just not true. I have very sandy soil and sand is nothing but little bits of rock; it drains water fairly quickly, mulching won't stop that. What mulching does is create habitat, which attracts various organisms and much of those organisms feed on the mulch and defecate and they also die and all this is what gives the crumbly texture to sandy soil. Those bits of crumbly organic matter is what retains the moisture, sure the mulching helps, but the real purpose goes way beyond that.

How long does it take mulch to turn into soil? That's not such an easy question to answer, but a big part of if is both temperature, you want warm temps, but a very big part of that is moisture. You can take away oxygen and certain lifeforms (although probably not the ones you want in your garden) will still decompose the mulch; however, if you take away moisture, the process stops. Also if you just have one ingredient in your mulch, say pine straw, the number of organisms it attracts will be less.

I have a heavily mulched area around my banana tree and a heavily mulched area in my backyard. I put more water around my banana tree, compared to the area in my backyard and you can see the extreme difference in the soil, despite the mulching ingredients being basically the same. If you want to speed up the process, you gotta keep it watered, not over watered, but definitely watered. And not just water the plants, but water the mulch, i.e. water the organisms. Without water they either die, leave or go dormant.

The big secret about composting is that you don't need to buy those containers from a store, nor do you need to make a special pile. You can simply add it to your garden, but be careful not to pile it all in one place or else it will go anaerobic (decomposition without oxygen) and it will stink. At the very least bury it under the mulch or you can bury it under the soil, just under the surface, it's called trench composting. http://organicgardening.about.com/od/compost/a/trenchcompost.htm


BTW, do your neighbors leave yard waste on the curb for pick up by the city? We do that here and I've on several occasions gone around and collected bags of leaves for mulching...Also, if you have tree removal companies? They will probably be more than happy to leave you some wood chips, otherwise they must ship it off for disposal.

P.S. Don't worry about keeping out the pine straw, just try and add more ingredients. Also, the leaves and seedpods are great for mulch, even those spiky balls from your sweetgum, I have one also.
 

Ask a Question

Want to reply to this thread or ask your own question?

You'll need to choose a username for the site, which only take a couple of moments. After that, you can post your question and our members will help you out.

Ask a Question

Members online

No members online now.

Forum statistics

Threads
26,417
Messages
255,005
Members
13,195
Latest member
Jerry Doe

Latest Threads

Top