Why Test Soil?
The reality of horticulture is that we are trying to grow plants in an unnatural setting. Over the years we have selected and developed plants from different parts of the world to produce bigger, brighter flowers and fruit that would not grow/occur naturally in many of the environments where we have built our homes. The soils where we live may not be perfectly suited to support the type of landscape that we envision. To a large extent we can modify the soil’s physical and chemical conditions by adding amendments to make it more suitable for growing beautiful plants. Although in some cases it may be easier to select plants based on the conditions of the soil.
Even a soil scientist cannot assess the chemical nature of the soil by just looking at it or digging in it. A laboratory soil analysis is necessary to evaluate the fertility status and toxic constituents of a soil. If you were to go see a doctor, would you expect her to offer a diagnosis or recommend treatment without even taking your vital signs? There are characteristics of soil that can be measured quantitatively that can predict the suitability and probable performance of plants. Analytical testing is routinely used in agriculture to efficiently grow the food that we eat. This same science and technology also allows us to evaluate and improve the soils of our landscapes and home gardens.
Knowing your soil’s chemical and basic physical properties will allow you amend the soil with the proper amounts and types of fertilizers, correct problems before the plants are selected and installed, and select plants that will be more likely to thrive in your soil type. Testing can also diagnose nutritional problems in an established landscape and help evaluate your current fertilizing program.
The cost of a soil test is small when the total cost of design, plant purchase, installation, and maintenance is taken into account. A well balanced soil will in turn create stronger plants that will look healthier and be more resistant to pests and drought.
Installing a landscape without first testing the soil is like taking a car trip without a map. It’s taking a gamble.
Few landscapers are trained in soil and plant nutrition and even if they were, they would definitely use a soil analysis to make management decisions.