Who do I ask? Not me. I just do irrigation repair. You need to talk to…

Well, not me, that’s for sure. I’ll tell you why. First, the questions being asked:

  • Why are my leaves yellow?
  • What fertilizers do I need?
  • What plants should go behind my house in the shade?
  • Is my soil absorbing enough water?
  • What is the best herbicide for my yard?
  • Are you married?

Actually, I don’t get the last one a lot. If ever. The rest come up frequently in every variation. Why? What makes me such an expert? Well, I’m a licensed irrigator and I’m doing work in the customer’s yard. That makes me an expert on plants, right?

Did you see where I said I was a horticulturalist, botanist, gardener, arborist or even farmer? No? Well, I am related to a number of farmers and one horticulturalist but the knowledge is not DNA based. It is training, experience and education based. My training tells me how to get the water to your yard efficiently and economically. It doesn’t tell me what you need for your particular soil and landscaping. The question now is: who knows? How do you find the information you need? I’m going to work backwards, from the big guns down to local experts.

The Big Guns

In every county of the country there is a county extension agent. Every county of every state and Puerto Rico, no matter how small the population. As of this writing, Loving County, Texas is listed as the smallest county population in the nation with less than 100 people. Actually, only 82 as of the 2010 census but someone may have broken down there since. Loving County has a county extension agent.

Get to know your county extension agent. They know their business, help is generally free and their resources are vast. They can help with plants, fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides and general advice. To find yours, go to the United States Department of Agriculture Cooperative Extension System.

The more information you give them, the better they can help. One very important piece of information is the makeup of your soil. It’s more than just dirt. It has all kinds of important chemicals that can help or kill your plant, such as lime, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sodium, nitrogen, iron and more.

Finding out what is in your soil is very easy and amazingly cheap. Most states have at least one college that has an agricultural program that will test your soil. Some soil tests run as low as $10. Many I found were only $15. Send them a sample, give the results to your county agent, listen to the advice and get ready for a very healthy yard.

The universities listed here are purely random and provided as a country wide sample. The links will give you an idea of what tests are available. To find one in your area go to your web search engine and enter your state name and ‘soil analysis’. You will find one.

University Websites With Soil Analysis Services
North Dakota State University http://www.ndsu.edu/soils/services/soil_testing_lab/
University of Idaho http://www.agls.uidaho.edu/asl/services.htm
University of Maine http://anlab.umesci.maine.edu/default.htm
Virginia Tech University http://www.soiltest.vt.edu/
Kansas State University http://www.agronomy.ksu.edu/soiltesting/p.aspx?tabid=34
University of Hawaii http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/Site/ADSC.aspx
Utah State University http://www.usual.usu.edu/
Texas A&M University http://soiltesting.tamu.edu/

Local Experts

Don’t want to go through all that? No problem. The key to finding good local advice is finding someone you can trust and who has experience in your area. These are both important. I’m pretty trustworthy, I think, but you don’t want my advice on anything outside of my garage.

Get to know your local nursery. Real nurseries, not bulk distributors. Ask for any accreditations or degrees the company or its employees might have, such as Certified Nursery Professionals, horticulturist or botany degrees, arborist, master gardener certification, etc. There are national and regional certifications. Don’t hesitate to ask. They’ll be glad to show them to you. Find out how long they have been in business in your area. When you are satisfied, start asking questions. I have never found a nursery that was not more than willing to help.

Talk to a professional landscaper. Again, feel free to ask them for their credentials. Being a member of a regional landscape association is nice and can be of benefit but it’s not the same as that degree or certification. Ask for those. They should be proud to share them.

One note about professional landscapers: don’t expect it to be free. County agents and colleges are government funded. Your local nursery hopes to get your repeat business. A professional landscaper’s income is based on his/her knowledge and experience. Most of it is hard earned. It would not be right to ask them to give it away free. While they might give general advice just for goodwill, expect to pay a fair price for a real consultation. Since they can come to your house and see the actual conditions and plants they may be well worth the expense.

Who do you not ask, besides me? Your neighbor, for one. Plant damage can take a while to show. A good yard today doesn’t mean they didn’t just put down way too much fertilizer and it will be burned tomorrow. Some people think the best weed killer is gasoline or diesel. Care to guess what diesel does to your soil? It’s effective. No weed will ever grow there again. Nor anything else.

Ask a professional. You and your yard will benefit for years to come.

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