If you garden, you may notice some plants aren’t doing so well about this time of the year. Sometimes the plants just don’t like the soil they are planted in. Very compacted clay soil can form a hard to penetrate surface and plants can’t get enough roots or nutrients to grow.
Of course, the best soil test is the one where you send a sample away to a lab to get pH results and information on what nutrients your soil is missing. Often, they also give you advice on how to fix the problems. These are great at the beginning of the planting season when you have a chance to add amendments to large areas.
The key to finding out what your plants need is finding out about the composition of your soil. Soil is basically made up of three things: clay, sand, and silt. There is an easy way to test your soil at home to find out the amount of these in your soil. Once you know this, you can add amendments to help your plant perform better and be happier in its spot.
How to Do the Test
Take a quart Mason jar, fill it one-third to one-half full with soil taken from about six inches below the surface. Don’t let any grass or plant material get into the soil. Add water until the jar is about two-thirds full, plus a teaspoon of powdered dishwasher soap to act as a surfactant. Shake the soil for about 3 minutes, then put it on a table or counter in good light. Within about 10 minutes the sand particles will start to settle.
The different components will settle into layers with clay on the top (takes about 24 hours for clay to settle). If the water is cloudy after the 24 hours, you have organic matter in your soil also. If it is clear, you probably need to add organic material (compost) or other amendments.
Next week we’ll talk about amending clay soil.