06/26/2019
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RALEIGH — As the weather warms up, garden enthusiasts, community gardeners and landscapers gear up for the spring and summer growing seasons. Whether it’s a home vegetable garden or establishing plants that will turn into breathtaking beds of flowers and ornamentals, many North Carolinians love to garden.

“Now is the best time to submit soil samples as the peak season for the soil lab has passed,” said Jagathi Kamalakanthan, an agronomist with the Agronomic Services Division. “Soil samples are analyzed free of cost and the turnaround time to get results during spring and fall is usually just a little over a week.” Information on submitting soil samples for home gardens is available at www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/pdffiles/HomeApr2014.pdf.

Lime:

If your garden or lawn has not been limed in the past two to three years, it may need it, Kamalakanthan said. The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Agronomic Services Division suggests you test your soil to optimize lime or fertilization needs.

Lime takes several months to react and there is no real substitute for time.  Some people, in a rush to get plants established, end up buying soil from big-box stores or from lawn and garden suppliers instead of improving the fertility of the existing soil.

Topsoil:

Kamalakanthan cautions that it is always buyer beware when purchasing topsoil, because the sale of topsoil is not regulated in North Carolina. “Many times these soils have high soil pH and high nutrient levels,” she said.

It is a popular misconception that more nutrients are better when it comes to soil fertility. Some nutrients such as zinc and copper are beneficial to plants in very small amounts, while those same nutrients in excess can be toxic to plants, Kamalakanthan said. Additionally, excessive phosphorus which can be harmful to the environment is sometimes found in purchased topsoil. Before buying topsoil, it is best to soil test so you are aware of its quality, especially if buying large quantities. More information on topsoil can be found at www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/pdffiles/sfn14.pdf.

Compost:

Another common mistake is the misuse of compost and bagged manures. Plants should not be grown directly in compost or manures. These materials should be used as an amendment to improve the physical properties of the soil and provide additional nutrients. Hence, it is best used by mixing well with the native soil or as a topdressing, applied as a thin layer to the soil surface. Growing plants directly in compost or animal manure alone can possibly harm plants with excessive nutrients or salts associated with these products. Pure compost and manure can also retain too much water causing poor rooting.

Composts can be purchased, but also can be made by homeowners. To find out more composting how-to’s, go to https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/extension-gardener-handbook/2-composting#section_heading_5154. Whether made at home or purchased, consider having compost tested for its nutrient value by the division’s Pant/Waste/Solution/Media lab of Agronomic Services. https://www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/documents/WasteSampleForm2017.pdf.

Both native clayey and sandy soils in landscapes across our state can be very productive if managed well. Soil testing to establish lime and fertilizer needs is the first step. If amending with compost for improvement, use compost wisely and know its nutritional value for best results.

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