A successful landscape or garden maintenance program
strives to create a fertile soil. The goal of a sustainable fertility program is to
activate a favorable environment for plants and millions of beneficial organisms. These
microscopic critters assist plants in obtaining moisture and nutrients. Many of these
creatures help resist drought and fight off a variety of pests including weeds, diseases,
A soil fertility program should feed the soil not the
plant. By creating a fertile soil you will grow healthy, pest resistant plants. As a
result, the need for costly pest control services is reduced. Specialty fertilizers (e.g.,
lawn food, rose and flower food, vegetable food) are designed to only feed the plant and
ignore soil fertility.
To achieve a fertile soil the manager must first determine
what nutrients are in short supply or are out of balance. The soil pH must be examined to
make sure it is within a desirable range (6.3-7.0 for most plants). The organic matter
content must also be checked. Soil testing is the only effective method to determine the
condition of your soil and achieve a fertile living soil that will be able to provide the
best environment for your landscape and garden.
There are two basic methods of soil testing. The first is
to do it yourself by purchasing a soil test kit from a local nursery, hardware store, or
mail order garden catalog. Kits test for the three major nutrients used by plants
(nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) as well as pH. The directions are simple and included
with the kit. Making your own recommendations is not so easy.
A much more effective method of soil testing is to send
your soil to a testing laboratory for analysis. It is more expensive, but the additional
information obtained is worthwhile. In addition to nitrogen, phosphorus, potash, and pH,
the lab will test for items such as micro-nutrients, percentage of organic matter, cation
exchange capacity, and others (e.g., testing for lead in vegetable gardens is often
available). They will also make recommendations on how to correct any problems found.
It is important when choosing a lab that you find a
reputable service that can provide you with recommendations you can understand and that
utilize organic management techniques. This should include recommendations on soil
fertilizers, cover crops, management techniques and necessary additions of organic
Information provided from a quality testing service assists
the landscape and garden manager in formulating a custom fertilizer blend for your garden
or landscape. Utilizing these custom fertilizers will yield a fertile soil with abundant
beneficial organisms that is capable of growing healthy, pest resistant plants.
BUGS and Living Resources Company provides organic soil testing
services with extensive recommendations.