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Digging into a Better Garden: Summer Soil Testing for Next Spring's Success

You don’t have to dig too deeply to discover the secret of great gardening—it's all in the soil! Healthy soil is the foundation of a thriving garden, and summer is the perfect time to evaluate your soil's health. Here’s a fun and easy guide to help you get started on creating the best garden ever for next spring!

little girl helping in the garden
Kids love spending time helping you!

Why Test Your Soil?

Before you start adding lime and fertilizers, your first step should be taking a soil sample to send off for testing. A good soil test will evaluate:

  • Soil texture: Sand, silt, or clay.

  • pH level: Soil acidity.

  • Nutrient levels: Magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium.

This information will help you make the right improvements—because too much of a good thing can be just as harmful as too little!

Vegetable Starts & Tools
This is where the fun begins!

How to Get a Soil Test

While home test kits are available, they aren't as accurate or thorough as professional testing. Contact your county extension office for soil testing information and instructions. Most have websites with the forms and fees listed. For example, check out Washington State’s service.

How to Take a Soil Sample

Prepare the Site

  • Scrape away surface litter, plant residues, leaves, etc.

  • Avoid spots where ashes, manure, or compost have been stored, or where brush has been burned.

Collect the Sample

  • Cut straight into the soil with a shovel or trowel, 6 to 8 inches deep, making a V-shaped hole.

  • Cut a 1-inch-wide slice of soil the length of the hole from one side.

  • Take a 1-inch strip from the center of this slice for your sample.

Mix the Samples

  • Repeat sampling randomly around your garden.

  • Mix the samples together in a clean glass jar or bucket. If you have raised beds, take a slice from each bed and mix them.

  • Measure out a cupful of soil, dry it indoors for a few days, and seal it in a plastic bag with your information on it.

  • Send it in with the proper forms and fees.

seedling pepper
Baby Peppers need nice soil and a drink of water!

Understanding Your Test Results

When you get your test results, the fertilizer recommendations will be specific to three elements: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Nitrogen (N)

  • Helps plants make leafy growth.

  • Recommendations might include manure (spread in fall) or alternatives like dried blood, alfalfa, soybean, or cottonseed meals (add in spring).

Phosphorus (P)

  • Necessary for germination, strong roots, flowers, and fruit.

  • Sources include rock phosphate (applied every 3-4 years) and bone meal or bone char (more readily available).

Potassium (K)

  • Regulates water flow in plants and is necessary for flowering, fruiting, and disease resistance.

  • Add potassium using granite dust, greensand, or wood ashes.

Improving Your Soil

Most gardens have room for improvement. Taking the time to test your soil now means you’ll be setting yourself up for a flourishing garden next year. You can start by adding new soil to your existing beds, like Sundance Rockery’s amazing 3-Way Soil! This exceptional mixture combines:

  • Nutrient-rich forest humus

  • Premium topsoil

  • Sand

  • Essential amendments

Boasting a balanced pH of 5.5, our 3-Way Soil creates an optimal environment for robust seed germination and the establishment of a vibrant, enduring lawn.

For vegetable gardens and as a superior top dressing for existing beds, Sundance Rockery also carries our nutrient-rich 4-Way Soil. This powerful blend merges:

  • Organic compost

  • Forest humus

  • Topsoil

  • Sand

  • Vital amendments

With a balanced pH of 6.2, our 4-Way Soil nurtures an enriching environment, fostering robust root development for thriving plants in your vegetable garden. Additionally, it revitalizes existing beds, ensuring a bountiful harvest.

To enhance your soil even further, consider using Sundance Rockery’s Dirt Hugger compost, a dark, rich, organic compost made from local whole fruit, wood, brush, spent brewery yeast, and food scraps. We screen compost to less than 3/8” size, perfect for amending the sandy loam or clay soils in the Pacific Northwest. Apply in a 2-3″ top-dress and work it 6-8” deep into existing soil. Compost provides organic content and nutrients, balancing the environment for plant growth. It also aids in water retention, pH buffering, and stimulates microbiology.

Take the time now to improve your soil, and you'll reap the benefits with a vibrant, productive garden next year.

Happy gardening! 🌱

Tools of the task
A comfy seat and your tools out to play in the dirt!

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