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This bloom is, in part, from nutrient loading nitrogen and phosphorus and runoff. Soil testing provides valuable information on pH and plant-available nutrients.

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Test your soil before planting and every two to three years thereafter. Inexpensive soil test kits are unreliable.

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The accuracy of these reports, however, depends on the quality of the sample submitted. Fill out the soil test report sheet, giving as much information as possible. The required items are name, address, county, sample codes, and the crops planned.

Reports are sent by mail only if there is a special request submitted to the lab. Otherwise, provide an email address on the form to receive notification that the report is complete and online. Farmers also use the form, so some of the information requested may not apply to gardeners pounds of lime per acre, for example. Fertilizing trees and shrubs in a landscape should be based on the amount of rainfall, soil type, the plant's age, the amount of current growth, and desired future growth.

Overapplication of fertilizer to home landscapes wastes money, contributes to pollution in our rivers, streams, lakes and estuaries, and may damage or kill desired plants. In addition, excess fertilizer can increase the likelihood of disease problems, lead to weak growth, attract pests, and increase the amount of pruning to keep mature plants within appropriate boundaries. A soil test report provides accurate guidance for applying fertilizer. Figure 1—22 shows the main components of a soil test report. Depending on the crop indicated when the soil sample was submitted, the soil test report provides results in one of two ways:.

Example 1: If the area is feet by 20 feet, and the suggested lime or fertilizer treatment is 30 pounds per 1, square feet:. Example 2: If the area is 10 feet by 15 feet, and the suggested lime or fertilizer rate is 10 pounds per 1, square feet:. If 5 pounds of fertilizer are applied per 1, square feet, how many pounds should be applied to square feet using the garden size in Example 2?

Example soil test reports and their recommended fertilizer applications can be found in Figure 1—24 , Figure 1—25 , Figure 1—26 , and Figure 1— The pH scale ranges from 0 to A pH of 7 is a neutral state, representing the value found in pure water. Values above 7.


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The pH scale is logarithmic, meaning each unit has a fold increase of acidity or basicity. Thus, compared to a pH of 7. North Carolina soils tend to be acidic, as are nearly all soils in the Southeast. These soils were acidified over thousands of years by inputs of acids from atmospheric sources carbonic, sulfuric, and nitric acid , the decay of plant and animal residues, and removal of basic cations by the natural processes of leaching.

If our native soils are not limed basic , the pH is often in the 4.


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  4. The optimum pH for a plant varies with organic matter content and plant type. Plant nutrient availability is strongly tied to the pH in the soil solution Figure 1— Decreasing soil pH directly increases the solubility of the plant nutrients manganese Mn , zinc Zn , copper Cu , and iron Fe. Acidic soils make these nutrients more available. At pH values less than about 5. The impact of pH on nutrient availability is very important—both for maximum plant availability and to avoid potentially toxic levels at very low or very high pH.

    The optimal pH for growth differs among plants. For example, regardless of organic matter content, azaleas and blueberries are well-suited for a soil pH of about 5. In contrast, asparagus can tolerate a basic soil with a pH up to 8. A soil pH of 6. After obtaining a soil test report, you can take measures to adjust soil pH or select plants that will thrive at the current pH. Extreme pH measures of 4. If the soil pH is too basic for the desired plant, incorporating an acidic soil amendment such as pine bark or compost, or applying elemental sulfur, will lower soil pH.

    Apply sulfur with caution; too much can harm plants. If the soil pH is too acidic, apply lime to raise the soil pH. There are two general classes of liming materials: calcitic without magnesium and dolomitic with magnesium.

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    Calcitic lime is composed of calcium carbonate CaCO 3 and can be used on soils high in magnesium. Dolomitic lime is a mixture of calcium and magnesium carbonates CaCO 3 and MgCO 3 , which is the preferred liming material for soils low in magnesium. Knowing the soil type or even the current pH is not enough to determine the amount of lime needed.

    The texture of the soil, organic matter content, crop to be grown, target pH, level of soil acidity, CEC, type and amount of clay, and the current pH are all factors to consider in adjusting pH. Soils low in organic matter or high in sand content require less lime to change the pH than clay soils or those with high organic matter. Lime is heavily regulated in North Carolina. Lime must be labeled with a guarantee of percent calcium and magnesium. The percent of calcium carbonate equivalent also must be included on the label, as well as the pounds of material that equal 1 ton of standard lime Figure 1— Each type of lime must meet a screening requirement for particle size.

    Lime pellets are formed from lime that has been finely ground. The pelleted product is less dusty and easier to apply, but is slower to react with the soil. Lime moves slowly in the soil and neutralizes acidity only in the area where it is applied. To be effective, it should be spread and thoroughly incorporated. It takes several months for lime to react in the soil, which is why it is good to soil test and plan for proper soil pH management.

    For established lawns, gardens, and ornamentals that require lime, apply the recommended amount up to 50 pounds of lime per 1, square feet in one application to the soil's surface. For recommended rates over 50 pounds, wait several months to make a repeat application to avoid a surface buildup of lime. For new plantings where the area will be tilled, apply the entire recommended amount at one time.

    Collect soil samples using plastic buckets, let soil air dry and screen out any big chunks rocks, sticks. Mix several soil samples from the same location before sending it in for testing. Soil test report example showing lime and fertilizer recommendations. Nutrient availability as affected by soil pH. The wider areas represent greater availability.

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    The blue bar shows the optimum pH level for nutrient uptake by plants. Many people confuse plant nutrition with fertilization. Plant nutrition refers to the needs of the plant and how a plant uses the basic chemical elements. Fertilization is the term used when these elements are supplied to the soil as amendments.

    Adding fertilizer during unfavorable growing conditions will not enhance plant growth and may actually harm or kill plants. To complete their life cycle, plants need 17 essential nutrients, each in varying amounts Table 1—3. Of these nutrients, three are found in air and water: carbon C , hydrogen H , and oxygen O. Of these, nitrogen N , phosphorus P , and potassium K , the primary macronutrients , are the most needed. Magnesium Mg , calcium Ca , and sulfur S , the secondary macronutrients, are next in the amount needed.

    The eight other elements—boron, chlorine, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, and zinc—are called micronutrients because they are needed in much smaller amounts than the macronutrients.

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    Table 1—3. Relative amounts out of of the essential nutrients required by most plants. For a plant to absorb an element, it must be in a chemical form used by the plant and dissolved in the soil water.


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    In addition to those nutrients already dissolved in soil water, nutrients can be present in the soil in these forms:. Undissolved or granular nutrients, and those that are chemically bound to soil particles, are not immediately useful, although they have the potential to benefit the plant. For many plant nutrients, the soil acts as a bank. Withdrawals are made from the soil solution, much as you would withdraw money from a checking account.

    The undissolved pool of soil nutrients is like a savings account. When checking funds are low, transfers are made from the savings account to the checking account. When a checking account is flush with money, some can be moved to savings for long-term retention. In the same way, for many plant nutrients, when the soil solution has excess nutrients, some bind to the soil to become temporarily unavailable, and some react with other chemical elements to form insoluble minerals, which can dissolve again later. The presence or absence of nutrients can cause outward symptoms to appear on the plant.

    Table 1—4 reviews the essential nutrients for plant growth and symptoms that may appear if a plant is suffering a deficency or an excess of that nutrient. Table 1—4. Essential nutrients for plant growth.