by GABE DONIO
If you want a beautiful garden filled with vegetables , flowers or both , now is the time to make a plan for that garden , including testing your soil ’ s pH , Ron Fisher , owner of Ron ’ s Gardens on 14th Street in Hammonton said .
The first step is deciding what kind of garden you want , he said .
“ First , you have to determine if it is going to be a vegetable
garden , a perennial garden or just annual flowers around the house . You have to plan ahead . It ’ s like building a house . You can start looking online at what you want ,” Fisher said .
The decisions made in January will have a big impact on your garden in the spring . If it ’ s a vegetable garden , ask yourself how big you want the garden to be . Flower gardens could have annuals , perennials or a mix .
“ You have to map it out in your mind and envision what you want . When you go to the garden center , they should help you with all that — if you have a plan , when you go to the garden center , you ’ ll be more prepared . It makes it easier for the associates to help you ,” Fisher said .
Fisher said it was important
to take soil samples now , to know what you may have to do to the soil to help grow vegetables or flowers in it . In southern New Jersey , the Pine Barrens soil is acidic . In places like Salem County and Lancaster , Pa ., it is alkaline .
“ 6.2 to 6.5 is the pH range for most vegetables and flowers . Azaleas , evergreens and rhododendrons like it more acidic . Shrubs , roses and hydrangeas like it more alkaline ,” Fisher said .
He said gardeners should go down at the root zone , not the top inch or two , or they will get false results .
“ You should go down between two to 12 inches . Get several samples and get an average . It ’ s about $ 25 to $ 30 per test . If you can take three samples , get three samples ,” Fisher said .
Another tip : Make sure you use the right container for the soil , he said .
“ The soil should go in paper , not plastic and it should be relatively dry — plastic and moisture will get you a less accurate reading ,” Fisher said .
Unfortunately , he added , there is poor organic matter in local soil . The level of organic matter in the soil can also be tested . Fisher said there should not be more than five percent organic matter in the soil .
“ Typically , there is one to three percent organic matter around here . Three to four percent organic matter is great . It helps with water retention
and providing micronutrients ,” Fisher said .
According to Fisher , a critical component of a successful garden is how good the rhizosphere is — the ecosystem that is a combination of fungi and bacteria .
“ It [ the rhizosphere ] breaks down organic matter and fertilizers so nutrients are made available to the plant ,” Fisher said .
Treating the soil in any way must be done with balance .
“ It ’ s like anything else . You can overdo it ,” he said .
Now is the time to think about adding something like lime to your soil , according to Fisher .
“ Adding lime or pot ash ( potassium ) is a way of building the root zone , and strong roots lead to good flowering vegetables and firmness of fruit . If you have to add an amendment to the soil , it takes three to six months for that lime to work . A lot of
people don ’ t realize that ,” Fisher said .
Soil sample tests can be obtained at Ron ’ s Gardens on 14th Street .
“ We ’ re there every day except Saturday and Sunday working in the greenhouses . We ’ ll be opening for the season on March 10 , weather permitting , with pansies , primrose and lettuce ,” Fisher said .
Fisher said Helena Chemical also does local soil testing .