Vegetable Garden Problems? Here’s How to Test Soil and Add Fertilizer for a Healthy Raised Garden Bed
If you’ve noticed stunted growth, no blossoming, dying plants, or other vegetable garden maladies, it’s time to test your soil. In fact, we recommend you test soil several times throughout the growing season to ensure your garden is getting the right nutrients.
Why Soil Test?
Soil health is key to a great vegetable garden. Besides a skimpy harvest, unhealthy soil can lead to plant disease and pest problems. The soil test will tell you if your garden is lacking – or too abundant – in important nutrients and trace minerals. You can quickly take action to restore balance.
How to Test Soil
You can purchase an inexpensive kit at any local garden center or online, which should suffice for any home gardener. Here is what the kit will test, although you can purchase more extensive tests or send soil samples to a lab:
- pH: A healthy soil pH should be between 5.5. and 7 – 6.5 is ideal.
- If soil pH is less than 5.5, you can add limestone
- If the soil pH is greater than 7, you can add vinegar – about 1 T. mixed into a gallon of water
- Nitrogen: helps plants produce new tissues
- Phosphorus: stimulates root growth, buds, and flowers, and improves vitality
- Potassium: makes the plant strong and regulates metabolic activities
- Micronutrients, like magnesium, calcium, and sulphur
How to Fix Soil Imbalances
A broad spectrum 5-5-5 fertilizer will work in most cases. The three numbers you see on the label, like 5-5-5, tells you the “N-P-K” ratio—the first number is always Nitrogen (N), the second number is always Phosphorus (P), and the third number is always Potassium (K). These numbers can vary. For example, a 100-pound bag of fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio of 5-7-4 has 5 pounds of nitrate (nitrogen), 7 pounds of phosphate (contains phosphorus) 4 pounds of potash (contains potassium) and 84 pounds of filler.
If you would like more control of your soil, try these amendment options for each nutrient deficiency. Check out our soil amendment video, too.
- Bone meal
- Rock phosphate
- Kelp meal
- Granite meal
- Epsom salt
- Ground eggshells
- Aluminum sulfate
- Elemental Sulphur
How much to add? That depends on your soil and the readings that came back from your soil test. Do your research, and if in doubt, try a broad spectrum fertilizer. The absolute best way to ensure soil health is to amend it over time with compost. Composting is an excellent way to ensure your soil stays balanced for an excellent vegetable harvest.
Tell us: What do you use to add nutrients to your vegetable garden?