How to keep your soil healthy
Copyright © 2013 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
Healthy soil is important. It gives your plants food and water and helps them grow and give higher yield with less effort. Good soil is dark-colored and crumbly when you feel it with your fingers. To keep your soil healthy, remember to:
- Use well-drained soil
- Avoid soil erosion
- Stay off wet soil
- Add compost to improve your soil
- Have your soil tested
- Apply recommended fertilizer and lime rate
Well drained soil
A well-drained soil dries fast and permits timely field operations. In well-drained soil oxygen is able to reach the root zone to promote optimal root health. Optimal root growth happens best in soils without drainage problem.
Stay off wet soil
Driving on wet soil will pack soil down and push out the air and water will not pass through the soil. There will not be enough space for the roots to grow. Soil that is too packed will not give good crop yield. Wait until the ground is dry before you till it or start planting.
Add compost to your soil
Compost is a mixture of dead plants and roots and leaves. Adding compost to your soil will improve soil nitrogen and plants give more yields. If your soil is heavy clay, adding compost will help the soil drain water. If your soil is sandy, adding compost will help the soil hold more water. Adding compost brings earthworms and other living things that help plants and roots grow strong and healthy.
Have your soil tested
Your soil needs minerals to help plants grow. Adding compost gives the soil minerals and nutrients, but some soils need even more food. The University of Minnesota will test your soil to see if it has the right mixture of minerals and nutrients. It is not expensive and will help you grow healthy plants and good crops.
A soil sample should be taken about once every three years. Samples can be taken during any time of the year. It is easier to take samples in the spring and fall when you are often in your fields. You will be charged a small amount of money to pay for the test costs.
How to test your soil
Call the Extension office in your county for a bag to hold the sample. They will ask questions about your field and can answer your questions.
The soil sample must be collected in the right way for the test to work. To get a soil sample from your garden or field:
- Move or scrape away grass or anything else that is on top of the soil.
- Push a clean shovel down 7 inches and dig up a piece of soil.
- Dig up soil pieces that are one-half inch thick and one inch long.
- If the soil is wet and muddy, spread it on clean paper to dry. Do not heat it in an oven, microwave oven, or stove.
- Put the soil piece in a clean plastic pail
- Dig up more soil in other parts of your field and put it in the pail.
- Mix together all of the soil in the pail.
- Put 1 pint of the soil from the pail into the sample bag. Throw the rest of the soil away.
- Write your name, address, and the date on the sample bag. Write the name of the vegetable you grew there last season, and what vegetable you will plant there this year.
- Send the sample bag to the
University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory,
135 Crop Research Building,
1903 Hendon Ave.,
St. Paul MN 55108.
You can also take it to your county Extension office.
After your soil is tested, you will get the results in the mail. These results will tell you if your soil needs more nutrients. Then you can decide to add more compost or to use fertilizer.
Be careful with fertilizer
Fertilizers can hurt plants if they are used wrong. The right amount and the right kind of fertilizer make your soil good and healthy without wasting fertilizer or money. Use only what you need. If you do not understand the directions, call your county Extension office.
Keep your soil healthy
Soil is the most important part of your garden or field. If you want to grow good crops in the summer and fall, remember to take good care of your soil all year.