By feeding soil and ensuring that it has everything it needs, then—and only then—will it reward you with abundant harvests

Gardening is so much more than sowing seeds or planting seedlings into a plot—it’s mostly about working with the soil. Some people naturally maintain soil health while gardening without even knowing it, but if your transplants aren’t growing, or your nightshades aren’t bearing fruit, there may be a deeper problem.

Common garden problems caused by soil issueshands in dirtPhoto by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

One of the most common problems that gardeners experience in their gardens is that they’ll prep the whole bed, transplant newly purchased or grown seedlings, and then a few weeks later notice that there’s still been little to no growth. This can happen when gardeners purchase topsoil or even compost that is high in carbons.

This means that the compost or topsoil was made primarily with leaves, shredded paper, cardboard, and other “brown” materials, and wasn’t balanced with many “green” materials, like food scraps. While this can be a leading cause of stunted plant growth, we don’t want to swing too far in the other way, either. Too much nitrogen can result in lush, green growth—which seems like a good thing—until you have three-foot tall tomatoes with no flowers or fruit.

Sometimes you’ll notice that the problem in your garden happens later on, once the plant is fruiting. You’ll have the perfectly tall pepper plant, the fruit is forming, and then notice that the bottom has browned or rotted. This blossom end rot can be caused by a lack of calcium in the soil or improper watering, which prevents the plant from absorbing the calcium already present in the soil.

There are a lot of variables that can go into these common garden problems, and rather than playing a bunch of Google guessing games, there’s an easier way to get to the root of the issue.

It’s time to test your soildigging in the dirtPexels: Photo by Lisa

Testing your soil is the easiest way to figure out whether you have balanced and healthy soil life in your garden. Even if you’re not having any garden trouble, it might be worth doing a test so that you don’t over-amend your plot with too much compost or other natural fertilizer, like worm tea.

Making sure that your garden has the adequate nutrients means that the soil will be able to relay those necessary nutrients into plants. If your pH is too high, phosphorus and iron are less available; if pH is too low, it can be toxic to plants. There’s a lot that can go wrong!

A soil test will reveal the texture of your soil (and whether it is sand, clay or loam), determine its acidity, and tell you the available amount of nutrients (like calcium, magnesium and so on). Once you know what it is that your garden needs, you can take the right steps towards fixing it.

You can grab a soil test at most gardening centres; or, if you’re wanting an in-depth test, you can reach out to a local business, or see if there’s a soil/agriculture and science student that needs to perform these tests for free for their thesis.

If the soil test comes back saying that you have healthy soil, that’s great. If you’re still having trouble in your garden, it might be a different problem, like under or overwatering, improper sunlight requirements for certain plants, or planting things out of season.

It might seem like a lot to remember, but once you get the hang of growing vegetables and fruits that you like to eat, the reward of gardening will be well worth the effort.