Prepare for Spring Gardening

Gary Stockton is the Parish Chair and County Agent for Lincoln Extension Service office.

This article originally ran in the Ruston Daily Leader on December 8, 2009

Spring gardening may seem far off, but it’s time to start preparing now so that you are prepared when the time comes for planting. Many people call me right before they plant their gardens or even after, asking me what they need to fertilize with and how to do it. I can give you a much better answer with much better results if you plan for this garden now.

Knowing what is in your soil and what it needs is a basic and first step to plant health. Our plants depend on soil to provide adequate nutrients with. We must manage that soil balance for best growth.

Fall or early winter is a great time to do a soil test. It beats the spring rush and gives you time to find and apply what is needed. If lime is required to raise the soil pH, it must he applied several months before it is actually needed to support good spring growth. Lime takes several months to completely react to reduce soil acidity and may cause plant burning if applied when it is very warm outside.

A fall or late-season soil test can also show how well you came through the past growing season. Fall test values should come out mid-range to show that your fertility program was adequate and not too strong or weak. Too strong of a fertility program will cause a buildup of nutrients to test high or very high by fall. It’s not like having "too much" money in the bank; this can actually lead to growth problems or groundwater pollution. Too weak a program shows low to very low fall values in a fall test. This indicates that you had run out of good fertility before the end of the growing season and may have weakened the plants.

Soil is tested for potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and pH among other values in our ROUTINE SOIL TEST. These major nutrients fuel growth along with nitrogen. Since nitrogen is so transient, we just advise on its use, based on soil type and crop.

If your soil is similar throughout your property, one composite sample from the 4 to 6-inch profile can be used to advise on several crops. List all the crops for which fertilizer recommendations are needed or that will grow in that soil sample type. Be crop specific because just listing "bermuda grass" may be interpreted as a pasture and not a lawn. You are allowed several crops for each sample, so you may request recommendations for several crops such as "vegetable garden," "centipede lawn," and "peach tree" all on one sample if all three crops are grown on this same soil type.

After you send your soil sample off it takes about 7 to 10 days for the analysis to be returned to you. We also receive a copy in our office so that if you have any questions about what the analysis recommends you can contact me , Gary Stockton, or your parish Extension Service office. We can review your analysis with you over the phone and guide you into having your garden spot ready to grow outstanding spring vegetables.

3/18/2010 9:24:36 PM
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