What are your plants telling you?

Top five plant problems that indicate the need for a soil test

Are your plants talking to you? Are you listening? Were there noticeable problems with some of your garden plants last year? Soil provides more than a place for the roots to grow.  Soil holds water and nutrients and should have a pH level of about 6.5. If any of these are out of balance, your plants are sure to let you know. 

The number one plant problem on my list for talking plants is blossom end rot. This problem is most often seen on tomatoes and bell peppers. Blossom end rot is not a disease or bacteria; it is caused by lack of calcium. This is often applied with a lime source. A soil test is required to determine how much is needed. Learn more about blossom end rot from Michigan State University’s Project Greeen.

Chlorosis is number two on the list for your plant trying to tell you something. Chlorosis is a generic term for yellowing of the leaves. The pattern of how the leaves yellow can tell a different story about the plant, whether it needs one nutrient or another, or if it is getting too much water etc. The main message is that there is a problem in the soil that needs to be checked out.

Do your potatoes have rough patches and bumps? These could be potato scab, my third indicator, and that is an indication that your pH levels are off. Yellowing leaves due to low iron because the pH is too high is indicator four. Yellowing or Chlorosis between the veins is pretty neat. Many variegated varieties have this coloration, but when your plant is not a variegated variety it is trying to tell you something. It is telling you that it needs iron. Again the problem is in the soil and requires testing. A great article about understanding soil pH is available on MSU Extension news.

When the terminal growth, or what horticulturalists call the apical meristem, dries up and dies or falls off that may be an indication of copper deficiency which is plant problem number five. Again, the problem is in the soil. Everything starts with the soil. If you have good soil you will have a better chance of growing healthy plants.  Healthy plants are better able to withstand the other things that can affect it, such as diseases and insect attacks.

Early spring before planting time is the perfect time to get a soil test and manage your soil if changes are indicated, especially if your plants are talking to you. For more information about soil tests, contact your county MSU Extension office or visit the soil website.

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