Prepping your garden for the spring planting season is an important part of your gardening routine. Two of the main items that you want to do now are testing the soil and checking your irrigation. Soil testing can show you nutrient levels and soil pH. Why is this important? Testing soil for nutrients helps you determine what, if any, fertilizer will be needed. Knowing this will save you money and reduce nutrient runoff into waterways. The University of Florida Soils Lab offers a $10 test that will check your soil nutrient levels and the soil pH. The UF/IFAS Lake County Extension office has envelopes and soil testing directions that you can pick up in the Tavares office. The office also offers soil pH tests free to Lake County resident. 

What is soil pH? It is a measurement of how acidic or basic your soil is. This is important, because some plants will not be able to absorb nutrients if the pH is not in the correct range for that plant. If the pH is off, there are ways that you can adjust it. The Extension office can help you determine needed adjustments. This can include adding lime, adding sulfur or selecting different plants that will grow better in the soil that you have. If lime or sulfur is needed, it will take several weeks for the soil to settle into a new pH. You should test the soil 4-6 weeks after any additives are applied and before you begin planting the new garden. It is important to note that you will need to test your soil periodically to keep it in range. Soil pH cannot be permanently changed with lime or sulfur. 

How do you take a soil sample? Collect 1-3 samples of soil from the area in question from 0-6 inches deep. Mix them together to create an average soil for the area. If you have several areas of issue, you will want to submit a different average sample for each area. No more than 2 cups of soil are needed for the tests. 

January is also a good time to check your irrigation system. First, make sure your watering system is spraying on your lawn. Sprinkler heads may need to be adjusted. Next, place shallow trays around each watering zone in your lawn. This can be empty tuna, or cat food cans. You want something about 2 inches deep. Next, let your system run as normal. After the system is finished in a zone, check the containers. Your lawn will need between ½ and ¾ of an inch of water per watering event. You may need to lengthen or shorten the watering time to reach this goal. Too much water often leads to several issues with pests and diseases. Remember to reduce watering frequency when ½- ¾ of rain falls. 

If you have questions about prepping your garden for spring, contact the UF/IFAS Lake County Extension office, located at 1951 Woodlea Road, Tavares, FL 32778, at 352-343-4101. Hours are Monday–Friday 8 a.m.–5 p.m. 

Jamie Daugherty is the residential horticulture agent of the UF/IFAS Lake County Extension office. Email her at