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Living Soil, Healthy Garden

This morning the redwing blackbirds made their annual return to the trees surrounding my home. This is my indicator that spring has arrived (despite the lingering snow!) I have been receiving many calls about how and when fertilizer should be applied to lawns and gardens. This is a difficult question to answer without information about your soil type and content.

Soil is so much more than dirt. Soil is a living ecosystem—a large community of living organisms linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. Every teaspoon of soil is home to billions of microorganisms—bacteria, fungi, nematodes, insects, and earthworms that play important roles.

  • Bacteria and fungi break down dead plant and animal tissue which become nutrients for plants.
  • Nematodes eat plant material and other soil organisms, releasing plant nutrients in their waste.
  • Specialized mycorrhizal fungi form symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationships with plants. The fungi bring hard-to-reach nutrients and water directly to plant roots, and the plants provide the fungi with carbohydrates.
  • Worms and insects shred and chew organic material into smaller bits bacteria and fungi can easily access.

A healthy soil ecosystem provides plants with easy access to air, water, and nutrients.

Test your soil

Conducting a soil test and receiving the results from a lab is the best way to determine the state of your soil. The soil test results will also give you recommendations to improve performance. In the end, you will save your precious time and money by obtaining lab driven results. It is best to do a soil test once every three years. The University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory offers soil tests for just $19. This basic soil test, without any add-ons, will give you the estimated soil texture, organic matter, phosphorus, potassium, pH, and lime requirement. Additional tests include calcium and magnesium; zinc, iron, copper and manganese; boron, nitrate, lead, and soluble salts for an extra cost. The test will also come with recommendations for fertilizing.

Visit https://soiltest.cfans.umn.edu/ to find out how to collect and submit a soil sample from your yard, and start the gardening season off on the right foot!

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