Give Your Soil a Check Up: A Guide to Soil Testers
When you were little, would your parents have opened the fridge, found the first edible thing they saw and give it to you in hopes that you would grow up to be healthy and strong? Of course not. Just as children need a variety of nutritious foods when they are growing, plants need to have plenty of nutrients in the soil they are growing in. Many growers are already used to fertilizing their plants for best results, but how do you know exactly what your soil needs?
Here’s where soil testers come in. Soil testers will help you keep track of different soil traits, with all the information you need in one place. Before purchasing a soil tester, you should know what types are available, what exactly you need to test and if there is anything else you need to keep the tester in working condition.
WHY TEST THE SOIL?
Soil testers allow you to test many specific qualities of your soil with one simple tool, allowing for easy and accurate fertilization. Testing the soil before adding fertilizer will prevent you from over-fertilizing your plants with more chemicals than they need, or from depriving them from nutrients they aren’t getting from the soil. Over-fertilizing your crops can cause plants to grow too much too quickly, leaving them susceptible to more diseases.
Besides choosing which fertilizers to use, soil testers can help you decided which plants to grow in the first place. If the soil is lacking all the necessary nutrients for a certain plant, it may be a good idea to rethink what you are about to grow. Don’t waste time and money by planting a crop that is destined to fail halfway through the season. There are many issues that testing the soil can avoid, so make sure to test it regularly.
WHAT ARE SOIL TESTERS USED FOR?
There are tons of soil traits that can be tracked, so before your purchase a tester you should know which ones you care most about. One commonly tested soil trait is pH level. Knowing the pH level of your soil is important because different plants require different pH levels. pH is measured on a scale of one to fourteen, with seven being neutral. Anything under seven is considered acidic, while everything above seven is considered alkaline. Soil pH can affect the nutrients that are already in your soil, as well as how fertilizers work. If your soil is too acidic, the chemicals in your fertilizer will “stick” to soil particles, making it impossible for plants to get what they need. You should check the label on your seeds or talk with an experienced grower if you’re unsure what the soil pH should be for the plants you’re growing. Make sure to never test your soil right after adding fertilizers because your results will be skewed.
Soil conductivity is also commonly tested. Conductivity can be measured in total dissolved solids (TDS) or electrical conductivity (EC). The measurement you use for conductivity usually depends on where you live. Knowing the conductivity of your soil means you know how many available nutrients there are in your soil. From this, you can decide how much fertilizer your plants need. It is important to remember that only the nutrients that have already dissolved into the soil are available to crops.
Soil temperature is one of the most critical measurements in deciding how and what to grow. Different types of crops need different soil temperatures to germinate, so before you plant you should test the temperature of the soil you plan to use. Soil temperature should be measured at planting depth so you are sure the results are accurate. To find the most ideal temperature for the plants you are growing, check the seed package or talk with an experienced grower.
HOW DO YOU CARE FOR YOUR SOIL TESTERS?
In order to keep your soil tester “honest,” you have to take good care of it. Most soil testers have solutions to keep them working at their best. Check the packaging of the soil tester you purchase for directions on which calibration solution you need to use and how to properly store the tester.
Testing your soil will help your crops thrive in the environment you plant them in. With so many different soil traits to keep in check, purchasing a soil tester that can do it all is a great choice, saving you time, money and storage space. If you are a hobby grower and only looking to test one condition, many simpler testers are available to make sure your soil is perfect for your plants. If you aren’t sure which soil tester will work for you, or what soil traits you need to test, feel free to contact us.
Do you have a soil tester? What traits do you like to check up on?