Soil testing: The process at the North Carolina state soil lab

The inch and a half of snow we got from the Blizzard of 2014 is melting today (by Sunday, it should be 60 degrees). It was fun and pretty while it lasted, but now that large patches of  mud are visible between the–drifts?–of snow, I’m thinking about spring.

Spring means soil testing for me this year, as I didn’t get my samples in before the fall cutoff. Due to high volume of sample processing, the state has begun charging a fee for samples submitted between December and March. It’s otherwise a free service, and while the fee is a mere $4, it’s the principle of the thing.

soil test for quince bed

A soil test report for one of my garden beds, taken last winter.

I’ve often wondered what happens at the soil lab. We send off a box of dirt, and we get back a detailed report showing levels of nutrients, organic matter, and pH, and recommendations for improvements based on what we plan to grow in each plot or bed sampled. And then the other day, I happened across this video, and my questions are resolved.

Growing a Greener World is an excellent series broadcast on many local PBS affiliates, or you can watch them online.

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Back in action

Please pardon my absence last week. My family played “pass the virus” amongst us but we’re all feeling better now. It’s been a brutal winter for many friends around here; I hope you are staying well where you are.

I got the roses sprayed with lime sulfur last Monday; fortunately, it only has to be done once a year (what a smell!). I sprayed the azaleas and viburnums with dormant oil and as I was strolling around, inspecting the troops, I noticed that the boxwoods are looking a bit rough around the edges.

leaf miner damage

It appears they are infected with boxwood leafminers, which cause the blistered appearance as well as the splotchy spots on the leaves. They overwinter in the leaves (drat!) and emerge in the spring to lay their eggs and start their cycle again.

Not this year! Although I don’t like to use a lot of chemicals in the landscape, I acknowledge that at times they are necessary, and then I use them very carefully, according to the label instructions (friends, more is not better). Between now and mid-April I’ll be doing some research to find out the least toxic option to manage these critters. The damage is pretty significant on a few of the shrubs and I don’t wish the hedge to look as gappy as the resident 7-year-old’s teeth.

Not only do I have leafminers, but I also appear to have mites as well. mite damageMites are very small insects that suck plant sap out of the leaves. Fortunately, they may be controlled by horticultural oil and insecticidal soap.

I’m hoping my observations this winter will help me stay on top of the problem this spring (which, from the forecast, may happen tomorrow). Fingers crossed!

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