Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3…

Theresa Badurek, Urban Horticulture Extension Agent

Spring is here, despite the recent chilly weather. Many of you will be turning to garden and landscape projects while the weather is still cool enough to be comfortable working outside. But before you break the bank at your local nursery you should do a little money-saving homework. The number one tip for all gardeners is to put the right plant in the right place. This is the first principle of Florida-Friendly LandscapingTM, by the way. You need to know what each plant needs to thrive: sun or shade, wet or dry, and even the pH of the soil.

Here in Pinellas County many of us may have alkaline soils- so we need to plant plants adapted to that condition. Soil pH is highly variable though, so you can’t count on it without a test! Matching plants to your garden conditions is key to success. Plants absorb nutrients from the soil, but if the pH is wrong for that plant, those nutrients may be unavailable to the roots. You don’t want to starve your plants, do you? While you can test for nutrients in the soil, the pH test is the most important one to do before a new planting. If your pH is right, nutrients can always be added by adding organic material like composts, manures, and other fertilizers.

How will you find the pH of your soil? Test it! That’s as easy as 1, 2, 3:

  1. Get your soil test submission sheet to download and print here: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/SS/SS18700.pdf
  2. Collect samples and mail them to the address on the form. You will need:
    • a soil probe, a spade, or a regular garden hand trowel
    • a plastic bucket
    • clean shopping bag or some newspaper
    • soil sample bags for each of your soil samples (you can use zip-top bags from home)
    • a check or money order payable to University of Florida (pH tests are only $3 per sample)
    • a shipping boxTest different garden areas separately, for example you might submit one sample for a vegetable garden, another for a turfgrass area, and yet another for an ornamental bed.
    • Follow instructions on the sheet for sampling, mixing, and drying your sample(s).
  3. Wait 7-10 business days for your results. Results will also be emailed to me, your friendly county Extension agent. So, if you have any questions about your results, you can just ask (my contact info will be on your results). While you are waiting you can plan your garden design layout- but don’t choose specific plants until you get pH results.

Once you have your results you can choose the right plants for the right places. One great resource that quickly identifies Florida-Friendly plants and tells you all about their requirements (including soil pH) can be found online here: https://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/publications/files/FFL_Plant_Selection_Guide.pdf

Or, you can order a free hard copy (while supplies last) here: http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/publications/type/all (Scroll down to “Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design” to order.)

For more info on soil testing from the University of Florida/IFAS Extension: http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/hot_topics/agriculture/soil_testing.shtml

Happy gardening!