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Soil testing after a storm

By Les Harrison Extension Director Emeritus UF/IFAS
Special to The Star

Hurricane Sally is now last week's news. Comparatively, it is a footnote in the year 2020 which has turned out to be quite a 12 month period in the history of the almost everyone. 

Still some mundane chores are currently underway in an effort to recover from the storm's effects. Hopefully readers of this column will have suffered only the inconvenience of a few limbs down and lightweight items blown around in the home landscape. 

There is a frequently overlooked task which will deliver big payoffs during the remainder of autumn and when the growing season returns next spring. A critical undertaking for the yard is to have a soil test analysis completed.  

In the weeks to come the homeowner may notice turf and shrubs yellowing, an affirmation something has gone wrong. Given the wet autumn and the standing water produced by the recent hurricane, the likelihood of change to the soil profile is likely. 

This analysis will determine the available nutrients and identify any deficiencies in the home landscape.  Given the amount of time and resources invested in home landscape, the soil test is an excellent investment to achieve the best possible performance of introduced plants. 

The process is simple, easy and inexpensive. Sampling kits are available at the UF/IFAS County Extension Offices statewide at no cost to the homeowner, and tips on effective sampling techniques are available upon request. There is a small charge for submitting each sample. 

Additionally, there are commercial soil test labs which will take submissions through the mail and return the results via the internet. These businesses can be locate by entering the term “soil test laboratory” in a search engine. 

There are several characteristics common to Gulf County soils, but these are not universal.  Testing will confirm the soils condition so amendments can be applied in the correct amounts. 

PH, the measure of acidity or alkalinity, is a critical component of the soil test report. Many coastal soils in Gulf County are in the alkaline range which affects the nutrient absorbing ability of grass, shrubs and vegetable plant. 

There are ways to mitigate or overcome soil pH problems with the correct application of micro-nutrients and/or mulches, in the cases of growing beds. These are all well within the abilities of homeowners to accomplish with readily available inputs. 

Another common trait of local, even statewide, soils is naturally occurring high amount of phosphorus. This element is mined in central Florida and shipped nationwide in commercial blend fertilizers. 

The middle number on a fertilizer analysis tag reflect the percentage of phosphorus available in the bagged product. For example, a 50-pound bag of 5-10-15 would have five pounds of phosphorus. 

If, as is commonly the case, the soil test report indicates the phosphorus is present then application is not needed. Excesses of this nutrient tend to leach into the aquifer and surface water bodies which can cause an assortment of long-term problems for everyone. 

This test result information, if utilized correctly, contributes to economically and environmentally sound decisions in the home landscape, many of which will be carried out in spring 2021.  It will also help if selecting a grass species which can be planted or over-seeded in patchy spots resulting from storm damage. 

As with bagged fertilizers, there are many choices to consider. Read the seed tag carefully if considering a blended product. 

Home lawns and landscapes can be rigorously stressed by severe rain events, such as hurricanes and tropical storm. A post-event soil test can answer many questions and set a responsible course of action to effectively and efficiently recover from the damage.

Some generic mixed products will include grass seed which will not flourish in north Florida. Examples of grasses which do not work locally include fescue, bluegrass, and orchard grass. 

Hurricanes and tropical storms will come and go, hopefully with minimal damage to homes, yards and everything else. Proper recovery techniques will promote a health growing environment, and give the owner bragging rights for a beautiful yard.  

To learn more about soil testing in Port St. Joe and Gulf County, contact the nearest UF/IFAS County Extension Office or visit https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/find-your-local-office/. To read more stories by Les Harrison visit: Outdoorauthor.com.