IF you want plants to grow you have to give them the right food, and the right conditions for them to make use of it. The acidity or alkalinity (pH) of garden soil affects the way food can be taken out of the soil by plants, but the essential nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (NPK) – must be there in the first place. So it’s important to know not just the pH, but also what’s missing so you can add more, and what’s already there so you don’t provide too much!
Simple testing kits that just determine soil pH are widely available. You can also buy more elaborate kits from garden centres and online to determine NPK, but for both types the starting point is a good soil sample.
How to take a sample
Take soil samples in dry weather when it hasn’t been raining for at least a couple of days. Don’t take samples if you have added lime or humus-rich material to the soil within three months.
From a garden flowerbed take three separate samples from different points across the bed. Cleanliness is essential. Wash, rinse, then dry your garden trowel and use it to scrape away the top 2in (5cm) of soil at each sampling point.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
Preparing for hellebore glory
Ruth clears the way for some late-winter border colour
Winter container watch
One of her patio containers gives Ruth a nasty shock
Try some pot luck
When it comes to container gardening, anything grows! Bob reveals how tubs can help boost your growing power
It's time to start sowing
Ruth explains how to get the best from your free seeds
Growing Icelandic poppies
Anne Swithinbank’s masterclass on: Icelandic poppies
Val looks at the frogs, toads and newts in her garden
For winter foliage Think hebes
They may not be the first plant that springs to mind at this time of year, but the leaves of many hebes look their best right now – and they’re surprisingly hardy, says Graham Rice
Choose toms for taste
Discover the best and easiest varieties to grow, says Peter
For Unexpected Colour, Try Winter Irises
Don’t wait until spring to enjoy the sight and scent of irises in bloom when there are options that will supply flowers in the depths of winter, says Graham Rice
Why every garden needs Cotoneaster
The ultimate berried treasure, these useful shrubs offer so much more. They’re good for winter interest, wildlife, walls, hedging… pretty much everything, says Louise Curley
This Scandi-style decoration will give any door a festive look. Just follow our simple step-by-step instructions to make your own
A warm WELCOME
Greet guests with a Christmas wreath of fresh flowers hung on your front door
These natural decorations are so quick to make and you can even find some of the materials in your own back garden
A warm winter WELCOME
Hang this bauble-filled wreath on your front door to add instant wow
The Katamari Series Is A Cosmic Horror Story
Danielle reimagines the Katamari games as a horror series.
Bring some spring magic into your home with early-flowering bulbs for Christmas and New Year
TRICK OR TREAT
Scare up some treats at home this Halloween
WINTER IS ON ITS WAY!
The nights are drawing in and it’s getting colder, says Stephanie Hafferty. But there’s still plenty to do in the garden
Project Kawasaki GPZ500S part 1 Pipe dreams!
Our Andy is back with his Kwak parallel twin – and it’s time to change pipes!
Roots of orange
One of the most popular and health-giving of veggies, carrots are a must for the garden and the plate