Picture this: You’ve just visited your local nursery or garden center and filled your car or truck with blooming plants. You’ve chosen the ideal location and dug your holes. Now, you simply pop the plants into place, water them, and sit back and enjoy your new garden.

At least, that’s how you think it will go. Instead of new growth, you notice your plants aren’t looking so healthy. Most gardeners immediately suspect problems with lighting or watering. But have you considered your soil may be the issue?

While it’s not the most exciting part of gardening, it’s crucial that you first invest in good soil — the foundation for healthy plants.

How to test your soil

Start with a shovel and dig up some soil samples. If your soil is full of light-colored and lightweight sand or silt, it can’t hold enough nutrients to sustain plant life.

If your soil is reddish and tends to stick together when wet, there’s too much clay in the ground for root expansion. If it’s dry, hard, and cracked, the soil won’t absorb water which means the root system will stagnate. If your soil matches any of these descriptions, adding organic compost is a great way to start amending your soil. Add an inch-thick layer of compost and work it into your existing soil. Your aim is to have crumbly soil, like a good coffee cake.

If you’d like a more scientific method for amending your soil, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension office provides soil testing for homeowners. A routine analysis will return basic fertilizer recommendations. Other tests measure soil micronutrients, boron, organic matter, texture and salinity. To learn more about the TAMU soil testing process, visit soiltesting.tamu.edu for submittal forms, sample collection and shipping.

Whatever your process, starting with the right soil components will give your plants a foundation for growth and success. You might even consider purchasing a soil test as a unique gardener gift. It’s the gift that keeps on growing.

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