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Soil testing can make gardening more satisfying

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Q: I am interested in getting a soil sample tested from my property in Rio Rancho. I have read the article about soil properties, but I am having trouble finding information about how exactly to collect a soil sample and where I send the sample. — Kate R.

A: Soil testing is an important part of gardening in New Mexico. It is also important that you collect an appropriate soil sample.

You are wise to seek information regarding proper soil-sampling techniques.

Your goal is to collect a representative, random sample from the area of interest. If you have areas that are distinctly different, you will need to collect more than one sample. If one area is sandy and the other clay soil, or if plants grow well in one area and poorly in another, collect separate samples from each area. Do not include thatch from your lawn or other layers of organic matter from mulch with your sample.

You can download instructions for proper collection of soil samples at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_a/a-114.pdf, and information to help you understand soil test results at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_a/a-122.pdf. Many more publications that are useful are available at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_a/ and http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/.

Most of these publications are also available without charge at your local NMSU County Extension Service office.

The extension agent at the Extension Service office also can help you understand how to collect samples and help you interpret soil test results and guide you as you prepare your soil.

You can purchase soil test kits from many garden sources or you can send your samples to a professional soil-testing laboratory.

If you choose to purchase a soil test kit, it is wise to send one sample to a professional laboratory and compare the results of the kit to the professional laboratory. This will assure that the soil test kit is good and that your techniques are good.

If the results from the kit agree with the results from the laboratory, you do not need to send another sample to the lab until you buy a new kit or replace the chemicals in the kit.

Q: Do I need to water my garden after a good monsoon rainfall? Or, can I stop watering for a few days?

A: If the rain was slow enough to penetrate the soil and did not run off, and if there was sufficient moisture to moisten the soil to the proper depth (6 to 12 inches for annual flowers and vegetables, 2 to 3 feet for shrubs, perennials and trees), you can skip one or two irrigations.

Some gardeners have problems when they fail to notice how quickly the soil dries after the rains. Watch the plants carefully so they do not dry out too quickly after the rain.

Garden calendar

♦ Aug. 13, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Summer Wings, the 17th annual festival celebrating New Mexico wildlife, presented by the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, 2901 Candelaria NW. Day-use fee for non-members is $3; entrance to the all-day event is free.

♦ Aug. 21, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Albuquerque Tomato Fiesta at the Albuquerque Garden Center, 10120 Lomas NE. Admission is $5 adults, free for children under 12. For information, call the Albuquerque Area Extension Master Gardeners hotline at 292-7144 or visit www.abqmastergardeners.org.

Send your gardening questions to Garden Variety, Attn: Dr. Curtis Smith, Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, 1036 Miller SW, Los Lunas, NM 87031. Smith is a horticulture specialist emeritus for NMSU Cooperative Extension Service. Phone, 865-7340; email cwsmith@nmsu.edu.

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