Many problems in lawns and gardens can be easily rectified if the owner knows the condition of the soil.
There are two factors most responsible for healthy plants: Putting the right plant in the right place and feeding the soil so it can feed the plants.
Making sure your soil is healthy will provide the conditions and nutrients your plants and lawn need to thrive. A soil test is a simple - but important - step in assessing some of the most basic elements.
Consistently amending soil with compost and other organic matter will put you well on your way to ideal soil conditions.
Even still, the results of a soil test can be an eye-opening experience and well worth the small investment.
One of the most important measurements in the soil-analysis report is the pH level.
The pH is a relative range, from 0 to14, which measures the acidity or alkalinity.
A reading below 7.0 indicates acidic soil, while readings above 7.0 are alkaline.
Most plants grow best in a range of 6.0 to 7.0.
But here's why knowing this number is so important. Even though you may have the perfect balance of nutrients, if the pH level is outside the range of preference for what you are growing, many of the nutrients will be unavailable because the plants won't be able to absorb them.
Essentially, the nutrients are there but locked up, bound and inaccessible.
Conversely, if you have the perfect pH, but lack the appropriate nutrients, your plants will perform below their potential.
There are a couple of ways you can test your soil - using a do-it-yourself kit or, for a more accurate result, you can use a private lab.
A quality report includes an accurate measurement of the soil pH, as well as the major and minor nutrients.
It also provides the suggested amounts and type of nutrients to add to existing soil to bring it into optimal levels for growing the plants or crops you have specified.
Unlike synthetic fertilisers that are readily available and easy to apply at the proper rates, organic options are more diverse, require larger quantities to achieve equal nutrient levels and are not as readily available through most retail garden centres.
These factors and others make organic recommendations more challenging. But don't let that deter you.
A few horticultural experts have addressed this problem, writing fact sheets for converting inorganic fertiliser recommendations to organic ones.
A great example comes from the University of Georgia. Here's the link to the form, which walks you through a typical analysis (www.caes.uga.edu/publications/pubDetail.cfm?pk-id7170).
Or you can try using a private lab that specialises in providing recommendations using organic and natural options.