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Spring is here, and you’re going crazy thinking about everything you need to do to get your garden flowers and crops growing. You spent a ton of time in the winter planning out crop rotations and sketching detailed garden plots. You've even thought of how to handle potential weeds and pests. The only problem is, you’ve overlooked something that’s just as important: your soil. Can you identify soil depletion? Do you know how to go about getting the nutrients back into your soil? If you answered "no" to either of these questions, you're in luck. After reading this short primer, you will be able to plant your garden in healthy, nutritious soil that will help it grow stronger and produce delicious fruits and vegetables for your kitchen.

testing the soil

Why Nutrient Depleted Soil Is Bad

Nutrient-depleted soil affects every plant that is growing in it. Not only will your plants struggle to grow bigger and stronger, but they will also not produce as well as you’d like. Scientists have run several tests and concluded that farming methods that deplete nutrients in the soil yield nutrient-depleted crops as well. This is pretty serious—what do you eat fruits and vegetables for if not for their vitamins and nutrients?

Signs of Depleted Soil

blossom-end rot

Unfortunately, soil depletion doesn't leave many direct visible traces and can be difficult to identify if you aren't looking carefully. To tell if your soil is nutrient-deficient, look at your plants! For instance, nitrogen deficiencies will typically cause older leaves, and eventually entire plants, to yellow. Phosphorus deficiencies turn old leaves purple or very dark green and can leave leaf-tips looking burnt. Potassium deficiencies produce the most physical evidence. The tips of leaves may look burnt and curl inwards, and purple spots may appear on their undersides. Sometimes, low potassium in the soil will cause yellowing to occur between leaf veins. Stunted plants or those producing less than normal might also be suffering from lack of potassium.

Your harvest can also clue you in on your soil's nutrient levels. Carrots that are grown in potassium-deficient soil will often be misshapen and bear a strange taste. Low calcium levels can cause your peppers and tomatoes to suffer from blossom-end rot, in which the bottoms of vegetables turn soft and black. Cabbages that yellow while growing are probably not receiving enough sulfur, and lettuce leaves will whiten around the edges when deprived of copper.

The soil itself can sometimes be useful in detecting lack of nutrients as well. Soil that is very sandy or full of clay will not hold nutrients very well and can make it hard for plants to thrive. You should also be on the lookout for an absence of activity in your garden. There should be plenty of earthworms and other insects living in and around the area. If they are missing, there's a good chance you'll need to enrich the soil to tempt them back and help your plants thrive. Shovel up some soil to get a good look at the composition and see if you'll need to mix in some plant food like Osmocote to amend it.

Testing Your Soil

testing soil in a graduated cylinder

If you're still unsure about your soil’s health, you should try running some tests. These will require you to take various soil samples from your intended growing area and to keep them in individual tubes. Carefully follow the instructions for each test, as they usually differ in terms of required water and soil amounts. In some cases, you will have to dry a sample out before running a particular test on it. Always wait the specified amount of time before reading your results so you can be sure to achieve the most accurate readings possible.

Adding Nutrients

Once you’ve determined that your soil is depleted, you can begin to remedy the situation. You’ll want to add some quality plant food to any areas lacking in nutrients. Osmocote is a good choice here, as it provides your flowers and vegetable plants with the full range of vitamins needed for strong growth. Plus, Osmocote plant food comes in smart-release pills that can register changes in the soil and secrete fertilizer only as needed.


spring vegetable garden

The nutrients in your soil are the same nutrients that will end up in your garden fruits and vegetables. Naturally, you'll want to do everything you can to keep your soil rich in vitamins and minerals. This season, when your garden is looking especially lush and yields a large harvest, you'll have your soil to thank. All you have to do is take a little time out of your schedule to replenish the nutrients in the ground.