Garden FAQ

Garden, Water, Soil, Nutrients, FAQ

Q. Can I send in soil samples myself, or do I need to go through a coop or garden center?

You can absolutely send in a soil sample yourself. If you are local, you can bring the sample into our facility. 13611, B Street Omaha, NE 68144


Q: I have an urban garden that I’d like to have tested for toxins.  What test should I run?  (The same question is asked about home gardens where the soil is brought in from another source).
A: We offer a lead analysis for soil. The cost is $36.00 per sample. To take the sample, we recommend you go 6 inches deep in the soil. You’ll want to take from that entire depth. You can cut a V into the ground and scrape along the side so the sample is 0 to 6 inches. You will want to go to 4 or 5 different spots around the area that you are wanting to test. Combine those smaller samples in a clean plastic bucket, mix it up and put 2 cups of that final mixture in a ziplock baggie. Once the sample has been received, the turn-around time for a lead analysis is 7-10 business days.

Q. Measuring your lawn with a Google Earth (GIS) tutorial.

How to measure your garden so you can convert one of our recommendations for nutrients based on your soil test into fertilizer that you will be purchasing. Visit Measuring your lawn with Google to get a free general estimate.


Q. How to calculate the nutrients needed for your garden?

You’ve received your garden analysis and your looking to utilize the data to treat your garden. To do so we recommend watching How to calculate nutrients needed for your lawn by Midwest Labs. You will find a quick tutorial breaking down the conversion to read a soil bag.


Q. How do I understand the numbers on a bag of fertilizer?

A. The numbers on a bag of fertilizer are the guaranteed analysis. This is what the manufacturer guarantees by law to have in the bag. There are three numbers on the bag; the first is nitrogen (N), the second is phosphate (P205), and the third is potash (K20). These are all considered essential nutrients and are macronutrients. Plant requirements of these three elements are much higher than other essential nutrients. Typically lawn fertilizers will have higher levels of nitrogen and much lower concentrations of phosphate and potash. The application rate suggested on the bag will be based on the amount of nitrogen. This generally calculates out to 1.0 pound of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet. Any time you are applying nitrogen, this the target rate you want. If the first number on the bag is 25%, this suggests that in 10 pounds of product, you will receive 2.5 pounds of actual N. There may be other nutrients included on the bag such as sulfur (S) or iron (Fe).


Q. Are all fertilizers created the same?

A. The most significant difference in fertilizer sources would be the type of nitrogen used. I always suggest purchasing a fertilizer that contains a portion that is slow release or insoluble.  This allows the nitrogen to be spoon fed to the plant.  There is enough immediately available as well as nitrogen that will be available at a later time in the season. This reduces the potential for turf diseases from fast, lush growth. These slow release sources also minimize potential nitrogen losses. When determining if the product contains any slow release or insoluble nitrogen, check on the back side of the bag where the panel is located.


Q. Do pine needles acidify my soil?

A. This is one of the most common myths that I have heard over the years. The fact is that this is not necessarily true.  Many pines in the wild will often grow in soils that may be acidic. However, they do not alter the pH of your lawn. The pH of fresh needles are acidic (approx. 3.5) as are many other species, yet, this acid will have little impact on the soil acidity.  Dried needles carry minimal acidity. A soil test from this area would suggest whether fertilizer and lime are needed. Don’t just assume that if there was a pine tree the area needs to be limed. This can cause more issues. Test the soil and then amend if needed.


Q. When is the best time to apply lime to the soil?

Lime requires an amendment when the soil test suggests the pH is acidic, less than 7.0. Lime applications should be made when the pH is less than 6.0 on established turf and less than 6.5 on soils that are to be seeded.  Garden soils should be limed if the pH is less than 6.8. Lime is not soluble so it needs to be incorporated which can be done prior to seeding.  If the turf is established, the application of lime should be made after the area has been aerated. This allows the lime to move down into the soil more easily.


Q. What is Garden Fertility?

A. Nearly all existing garden soils tend to be over fertilized. This is due to heavy and frequent applications of compost, animal manures, and too much fertilizer.  The phosphorus and potassium levels will build to extremely high levels and can over time become an issue with the success of the garden.  Some of these products can contain small amounts of sodium which is not normally an issue, however, with the continuation of heavy applications, this can also increase to unwanted levels.  Nitrogen from these sources can be slow release in some cases if the N is in the organic form as is the case of compost.  Animal manures and bagged synthetic fertilizers will often have both organic nitrogen and immediately available nitrogen.  If nitrogen is in a form that is immediately available, there can be root damage to young transplants or seedlings.  This can also create situations where diseases can be prevalent due to lush growth as well as reduced fruit set.


Q. What does Fertilizer Timing for Gardens mean?

A. As discussed earlier, it is important to not over fertilize gardens with too high rates of nutrients, especially nitrogen. Slow release products are the best source of nitrogen early. Nitrogen that is immediately available should not be applied until fruit set to increase the chances of the best possible production.


Q:  What if I want to test for other toxins besides lead?

A: We suggest starting with a lead analysis.  If lead is present, it is a good indicator that other toxins may also be present.  Depending on the level found, the soil may be determined not safe to consume vegetation grown in the soil area.