Soil problems HELP!

richardson111508March 17, 2014

I'll start by saying that I am fairly new to gardening. About a month ago I tilled my new plot (incorporating 8-8-8 fertilizer) then planted onions, potatoes, lettuce kelp, and several other things. The only thing that has started to come up is the onions. I dug up one of my potatoes and it looked just like it did when I planted it. I called my local county extension office and asked them what type of fertilizer I should be using. The gentleman that I spoke with recommended that I do a soil sample, which I did. He guessed that I would be low on nitrogen, phosphorous and have a high ph. He was exactly right! My nitrogen and phosphorus didn't even register on the test kit and the PH registered as high as it could measure. I live in the Blackland Prairie region which is known for being an alkaline clay but the lack of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus surprised me. There is a ton of agriculture in this area. Cotton and soy fields surround my neighborhood. I sprayed Miracle Gro Garden on my rows and also put out a little more 8-8-8 fertilizer and watered like crazy today. What else can I do that is a quick fix for my problem. I don't have any compost and I really don't relish the idea of re-tilling and starting over. I know I will certainly incorporate compost before next season, but am I out of luck for this year?

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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

Nitrogen is always low. It washes through soils with water.

Add nitrogen fertilizer, according to label directions.

And how high is the pH? "As high as it will go" doesn't mean anything to us.

For now, spread some compost on the surface of the soil.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 10:38AM
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ericwi

Some plants need the soil to warm up before they will germinate and begin to grow. You might consider measuring soil temperature, and making updates on your calendar. It does not do any good to dig them up an look at them. I have already tried that. It there is no rain, and the soil seems too dry, then watering will be helpful.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 12:48PM
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gardengal48

You are never going to get an accurate reading from a test kit for nitrogen. It is the most mobile of any of the primary soil nutrients and levels can change from day to day, sunlight to shade and from area to area, even within the same plot.

With any kind of vegetable gardening, it is pretty much a given that nitrogen will need to be replaced on an annual basis and often during the growing season as well. Using nitrogen fixing cover crops during the off season is one way but incorporating compost or composted manure on an annual basis is helpful as well. At this point in time, just supplementing with an N-rich fertilizer may be appropriate.....I'd look at one of the seed meals available at most feed or farm stores.

And I agree that mid-March is much too early to see much growth activity for the season. You need to have soil and nighttime air temps consistently above 50F for much active plant growth, both above and below the ground.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 2:05PM
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zzackey(8b GA)

There is no such thing as a quick fix. You will need to amend your soil with compost, manure and even old tree leaves. I save my kitchen scraps, even eggs shells and throw them on the compost pile. I plan to use the compost pile for my next garden. We use old grass clippings for our garden mulch.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 2:12PM
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tishtoshnm Zone 6/NM

I also think it is too soon to be fertilizing. I would not spray on any more Miracle Gro until you have some plants, too much fertilizer can be a bad thing.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 3:01PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Nitrogen availability depends on soil temperature and the activity of the Soil Food Web, also dependent on soil temperature, which is why few soil test labs look for N today.
Did you use one of those very unreliable soil test kits purchased at a garden center or was this done by your state university or other more reliable soil test lab? What did that soil test show about the Calcium (Ca) and Magnesium (Mg) and the balance between the two?
Where in the United States are you? That information may help some here understand more about your soil and climate.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 6:48AM
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KarenPA_6b

Potato needs acidic soil to do well, ph between 5-6. Check out this website for more info.

Here is a link that might be useful: potato

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 11:33AM
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gardengal48

Actually, like most plants, potatoes are adaptable to a range of soil pH. They prefer slightly to moderately acidic soil but anything below around 6.5 is fine. You do not need to get too carried away with lowering pH excessively.

Washington and Idaho are huge potato growing areas and neither offers excessively acidic soil. Many local home growers of potatoes plant them in gro-bags with regular potting soil, which has a nearly neutral pH. They do great.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 2:24PM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

Seems like the OP was a hit and run...anyway Blackland Prairie comes up as TX on a web search. One would think things would have sprouted, but it's been an unusually cold winter in the middle of the country.

Seeds, and seed potatoes and onions, feed off themselves at first so lack of nutrients wouldn't manifest at germination. Soil would have to be downright toxic to not have any germination. I suspect since the onions came up, they are just the first, and the others will follow.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2014 at 1:59PM
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centexan254 zone 8 Temple, Tx

Black Land region is huge area of Texas. (Though for the most part it is considered to be Central Texas ranging from Waco south to the Hill Country area near to Austin.) The soil is a heavy black clay. It dries, and cracks badly in the summer. When it does rain it turns to sloppy mud. When moist it is like Play Dough. Just adding sand does help some but not much. Lots of organic humus, and some composted cow manure with the sand will help greatly. You may need to add sulfur. The high amount of limestone in the soil causes the high ph here.

I have lived here most of my 37 years. I spent many a summer days helping my grandpa with his gardens in this area. For a successful garden in this area that is anything other than cotton, peanuts, or corn the soil needs to be amended with something to help break it up. Also one would be well advised to add lots of compost. While the soil here can be very rich if amended. It has to be broken up by something. Grandpa always used lots of hay in the soil where he grew taters.

If you are growing onions it is a good thing they are already going. If not they would be coffee stir sized till fall. I had no luck getting onions started in the summer last year. I bought some already started by Bonnie Plants in Oct. I pulled them a few days ago to make room for tomatoes, and squash.

For soil prep I do not know what size you are working with. Nor the equipment you have available to use. Also what kind of budget you have for soil amendments. If it is large then you would be well advised to have truck load of garden mix delivered. I would then till and dig out at least half of the native dirt. More if you can. Then I would till in the amendments. I would also add a lot the finest sand you can get until the wet earth was not like Play Dough. I did this for my raised bed. It has made things a whole lot better.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2014 at 4:57PM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

If the clay is that bad, amending with sand may be a tricky business because of the 'concrete effect'. You need a LOT of sand to get beyond the critical zone where the clay/sand mix can set up like concrete. I'm saying this more for the OP than centexan, you sound like you've had your hands in that particular clay for quite some time!

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 11:11AM
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eddiepwns

Just curious what soil test kit did you use? A name and/or link would be nice! :) I'm also new as well. Thanks

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 2:36PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Removing and tossing out the "native" soil is unnecessary, but amending that soil with adequate amounts of organic matter is.
Amending clay soils with sand is not recommended by any soil scientist, but then what do they know.

Here is a link that might be useful: sand plus clay

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 6:40AM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

I prefer to amend my clay with silt or silty sand I can get after the MO River floods. That gets the entire range of particle sizes in there (i.e., loam). The two extremes - clay plus sand - can be a nightmare when brought together.

Troll, most of us are much more trusting of Ag Extension soil lab results rather than home test kits. Much more reliable and you don't have to worry about shelf life of the reagents.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 1:48PM
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richardson111508

Wow!!! I can't believe all of the responses and I appreciate all of the information very much! I kept looking for an e-mail that someone had replied on my thread and just assumed nobody answered. I am SO sorry that I just now realized you guys had been responding to me! I'm definitely not a hit and run.

In any case I'll answer a few questions that came up. I live just East of Dallas, TX. The soil sample kit that I used was one of those DIY cheapos from the feed store. Since I have posted this, I now have potatoes, onions, and lettuce coming up. I have some onion plants that are nearly a foot tall! My tallest potato plant is probably only around 3-4",but they are growing by the day. I also started the rest of my crops in jiffy pots in my garage since I posted this. 97 Jiffy pots to be exact that I move out into the sun during the day. The only seedlings that have sprouted are the tomato plants. As far as budget for soil amendment, I would say I could afford maybe a few hundred dollars tops and my tools include a rototiller and hand tools. Also wanted to ask if there was a good way to kill grass in my plot that wouldn't kill my crops. The PH pegged out the scale on the test kit at 7.9.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 9:31PM
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pnbrown

Yep, potatoes take long time to come up, just gotta be patient.

Your soil/climate paradigm is so different from anything I have knowledge of that I will not presume to comment. The poster in this thread who has lifetime experience with it is the person to pay attention to.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 6:46AM
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darth_weeder(z7 NY)

The best way to kill grass in the garden ,for me anyway, is to mulch. Shredded leaves , straw , hay, woodchips... and if you like you can put down cardboard or layers of paper underneath these. I prefer organic mulches that will break down and improve the soil.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 12:36PM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

That's a very high pH, and if it's correct (you might want to confirm it at a lab) you will want to add sulfur as suggested earlier. That and compost will moderate the pH.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 12:59PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Texas A & M does soil testing relatively inexpensively with much more reliable results, and will recommend what to do to correct any problems they find. For example, if the soils pH is really that high they will tell you to spread a given amount of Sulfur or Aluminum Sulfate which will, eventually, help correct the cause of the soils pH.

Here is a link that might be useful: Texas A & M CES

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 6:44AM
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idaho_gardener

If you can get bags of granular humic acid, you can apply that liberally. It will lower the pH and make the minerals in the soil available for your plants. You will probably want to use some sort of cover for the soil to prevent moisture from being evaporated from the soil. Try black plastic sheeting. Check with your county extension office for gardening advice.

Here is a link that might be useful: Bags of humic acid

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 10:09PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Humic acid, and fulvic acid, are products produced in soils when there is adequate levels of organic matter. There is no need to spend money purchasing something that may or may not be of true value. Adding something labeled "Humic" or "Fulvic" acid to a soil lacking adequate levels of organic matter is largely a waste of your time, energy, and money.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 6:28AM
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centexan254 zone 8 Temple, Tx

Hello richardson I am a bit farther south in Temple. Though I grew up closer to where you are in the mesquite woods of the Cleburne/Joshua/Buleson area. If you already have the crops planted, and they are growing then leave that area alone, and let them grow. Onions, and taters can do just fine in not so great of soil as you are seeing.

I do not know if you are doing standard row in the ground gardening, or raised bed that does make a difference when it comes to soil improvements.

For the sake of if it is a row garden, and you have already tilled, and are going to plant then save some funds for making improvements in the fall. That will give you a chance to do as much research as you can. The local extension is a great resource to use. Take them a soil sample, and pay to have it lab tested. They can make suggestions as to ratio of amendments to make to the soil.

For getting the grass out if it is just weeds starting in the rows then I would suggest the old school hoe method. I was hoeing out rows in grampa's gardens when I was big enough to hold one by myself, and know how to get the weeds, and not the crops. If it is large plots of the sod then dig it out, and cover the area with something to block out the light that is weighted down. The grass will die out in a couple of weeks. Then cut it out with a shovel, and break up the soil below, then recover it for any strays. The coastal grass is a hard one to entirely get rid of. I have seen it growing dormant under 5 feet of dirt when digging out stock tanks. It grows by its roots kind of like mint. If you are cutting it out then go several inches deeper to get as much of the roots as you can. Also be prepared for the fact that it will creep in around the edges of you garden. A little work with a hoe once or twice a week will keep it in check.

For a raised bed here is how I did mine. I was limited on funds, and resources so I made do with what I have, and could afford to get at the time. I have two raised beds. One is low rise. In this one I used some of the native soil, and amended what I used. I took a lot of the native soil out though. The taller raised bed I have did not use any of the native soil at all.

For the low rise bed it is 6 feet wide, and 12 feet long. running due south to north for the length. I first cut the sod out. For that I watered it heavy, and waited a couple of days until it was wet, but not sloppy, and muddy. I dug the sod to the depth of my spade. I cut it out in chunks going under it, and popping it up getting under the roots. It was much easier that way.

Next I used a tiller to break up the dirt below. It was heavy clay. A hand full of it when wet is like a ball of black play dough. I tilled to a depth of about two or so feet deep. As deep as I could get the tiller to go.

I then dug it out. I took all but a few inches in the bottom out I have huge pile of it on the other side of my fence. I put some of it into a large container that I have to use for a test box that I used for ratio testing with the amendments. It gave an idea of how much of what I would need to mix in to the large area to get decent soil that was not the play dough.

I used soil conditioner that is sold at Home Depot in 2 cubic foot bags. It is less than $3 per bag. Black Cow manure from Lowe's. (Home Depot does not carry it here.) I also used lot of Miracle Grow garden soil (the for vegetable, and flower gardens. With a couple bags of the citrus, and cactus in there. They have calcium, and bone meal I think.) I bought up the clearance marked busted bags. I also used a lot of the cheapo top soil. The brand was Mother Earth. I also used a lot of the bagged humus, and manure. I bought the ripped bags from all the stores. I also used a bit of course builder's sand in with that. I had a very low budget so this was how I did it. I mixed a little of each in the test tub with some of the native soil until I got the ratio to point that I can live with. It would when wet make a ball in my hand when I made a fist. It would hold together when I opened it, and break up when I poked it with my finger. For any place I am planting squash or melons I use a bit more sand in the mix of my mound to give more draining so the roots do not drown.

Time will tell how it works out. So far it is going well. My plants look not that great right now due to the fact that last week the hail bed the living daylights out of everything.

Here is a picture of the smaller pile that I dug out. The pile was well larger than this. A guy came by in a pick up asking if he could take the dirt for some fill dirt. I told him to take it he wanted it. He filled a Chevy long bed with dirt.

This post was edited by centexan254 on Sun, Apr 6, 14 at 11:00

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 10:40AM
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centexan254 zone 8 Temple, Tx

A pic of the testing tub. It has some dirt that I took from another area I cut in some coarse sand. I am going to see how bad it compacts in a couple of weeks. Then will cut it with some other amendments. It is just kind of a for the heck of it test.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 10:48AM
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centexan254 zone 8 Temple, Tx

Ok and now a last pic of the final result of all of the hard work. Note that it was battered by a hail storm that dumped 4 inches of rain out in 45 minutes as well. Not to mention the leaf burn that happened due to the fact that after the storm the sun came out, and it was 90 degrees 30 minutes later with bright sun.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 10:53AM
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