What makes soils in Utah different from other parts of the country?
According to Dr. Richard Koenig Ph.D., Utah State University Soils specialist , “We are cursed with more soil variability along a mile transect than most Midwestern states have from border to border.” In general, however, coarse textured soils (sandy loams and loamy sands) are found on the higher benches and canyon washout plains, while f ine textured soils (clay loams and silt loams) are found in the lower areas adjacent to and west of I-15.
The other major difference in Utah and western soils in general, is their alkalinity.
We do not add lime to our soils! The majority of Utah soils have pH values in the 7.8-8.1 range – approximately 85% of samples. Generally bench soils will range from 7.5-8.0 while those in the lower areas will range from 7.8-8.1. Roses prefer a pH of 6.0-6.5. These extremes of pH will alter nutrient availability. In particular, at pH levels of 7.0 and above, phosphorus, iron, copper, zinc, boron and manganese become less available.
That said, how do we improve the soil we are blessed or cursed with?
A good garden soil is deep, loose, fertile, well drained, near neutral pH and has lots of decayed organic matter. The four main components of good soil are 5% organic matter, 25% air, 25% water and 45% mineral matter. Utah soils typically contain less than 1% organic matter. Whether your soil is sandy or mostly clay, the way to improve either soil is the same, add Organic Matter! Sandy soil will hold water and nutrients better, while clay soils will benefit by separation of its fine particles by coarse organic matter.
Begin your soil improvement by incorporating 2-3 ” of organic matter into the soil. Add 1-2″ yearly as a top dressing. In heavy clay soils, it may take 2-3 years to see much of an improvement. The organic matter may be compost, leaf mold, bark products (soil pep),peat moss, grass clippings, or green manure crops.
The best way to find out exactly where you stand with regards to your soil is to have it tested. Utah State
University soils lab can do the testing for you. For information on where to pick up the soil test kits call the USU Extension office in your county: Salt Lake County (801) 468-3170, Weber County (801) 399-8200, Utah County (801) 370-8479, Davis County (801) 451-3409. They also have facts sheets on how to take a soil sample. The soil test will tell you your phosphorus and potassium levels, your pH, salt levels and lime (calcium) content. Results will be sent to your residence. Soil may be tested any time of the year.
Peat moss, compost , and other organic matter will help moderate pH.
The fertilizer ammonia sulfate will add nitrogen as well as lower the pH. Sulfur may be used, but it is only marginally effective on soils that are high in lime (calcium). To lower the pH from 7.5 to 6.5 add a minimum of 1.5# of sulfur per 100 square feet. To lower the pH from 8.0 to 6.5 add a minimum of 3.5# of sulfur per 100 square feet. Remember the basics of good soil, water and sun and your roses will be beautiful!
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