Category Archives: Sustainable landscapes

Sample Soil Now for Healthier Landscapes Next Year

Spring is by far the busiest time for gardeners. Between selecting plants, starting seeds, and preparing beds, we often forget about what’s basic: the soil. Suddenly remembering, in April gardeners furiously submit handfuls of soil to our Horticulture Diagnostic Lab for testing, expecting immediate turnaround, and then realize, “What!? It takes how long for limestone to change the pH of my soil!?”

This is why autumn is the perfect time to start preparing your gardens for the growing season ahead. Submitting soil samples to us now allows you enough time to collect your samples properly, understand the test results, and if you need to make amendments to the soil, time for them to activate before next spring.

Using a soil auger makes collecting samples easy, but a trowel will work just as well.

Using a soil auger, shown above, makes collecting samples easy, but a trowel will work just as well. Photo by Robin Simmen.

Maintaining the proper soil pH is just as important for maximum crop yields as fertilizing, watering, and pest control. The decision to add lime to raise the soil pH and the amount to apply must be based on a soil pH test and the crop species to be grown. Do not guess. Some plants, like rhododendrons, azaleas, and blueberries as well as other members of the Ericaceae family grow best in acid soil (pH 5.0). Most vegetable garden plants grow best in soil with a pH in the 6.2 range. The recommended range for a lawn is between 6.0 and 7.0.

Instructions for taking a soil sample

First determine how many samples to take. Different gardens/beds, lawns, areas with different soil types, places where such amendments as limestone were added, areas with plants having different pH requirements, and good/bad areas should be sampled separately as described below:

  • In gardens or areas planned for new plantings where the soil will be turned under or rototilled, individual samples should be taken from the upper 6 to 8 inches of soil.
  • In established plantings or lawns where the soil won’t be turned under, individual samples should be taken from the upper 3 inches of soil.
  • Each soil sample should be comprised of 5 to 10 individual samples obtained by walking back and forth diagonally across the area to be sampled.
  • Use a trowel to dig a small hole to the desired depth. Remove a slice of soil from the entire side of the hole and place this in a clean plastic container. Repeat this procedure at each of your 5 to 10 random spots, and place the soil from these spots in the same container, discarding any stones, grass, or other debris.
  • Next, remove two 8-ounce cupfuls of the soil in this container and place them in a plastic bag. Secure the bag. This is your soil sample for that area. Mark the outside of the bag with an identification (i.e. #1, #2, or “A”, “B”, or “East”, “West”). Keep the identification simple.
  • Repeat this entire procedure for each additional garden, landscape bed, and/or lawn area you wanted tested.

You can find soil testing submission forms to accompany your samples on our website at The cost of a soil pH test is $5 per sample; if you submit five or more samples, they cost $3.50 each. Mail or drop off your samples at 423 Griffing Avenue, Riverhead, NY 11901. Our office hours are Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Sandra Vultgaggio is Horticulture Consultant for CCE Suffolk. She can be reached by email at or by phone at 631-727-7850 x387.

Managing Landscapes Sustainably

Remember when autumn meant making a pot of soup, pulling out the leaf rake, and spending an afternoon raking leaves into backyard piles for kids and dogs to enjoy? Life in the fast lane has changed all that, degrading the quality of life on many fronts. According to Quiet Communities –a national non-profit organization dedicated to protecting our health, environment, and quality of life from the excessive use of industrial outdoor maintenance equipment—tasks once done manually are now often done with gas-powered machinery. A manicured aesthetic has become the new norm in many communities that barely tolerate even small amounts of leaves or debris. As a result suburban landscapes have lost critical “messy” habitat that insects and other vital species need to live, leading to a loss of biodiversity.

No one wants to breathe in the polluted air created by gas-powered leaf blowers. Photo c Quiet Communities.

No one wants to breathe in the polluted air created by gas-powered leaf blowers. Photo © Quiet Communities.

The deafening roar of gas-powered leaf blowers (GLBs) has replaced the “woosh, woosh” of the rake, and painful noise is just a small, if most noticeable, part of the trouble GLBs cause. Their motors send particulate matter into the air at 200 m.p.h., spewing forth dust, mold, pollen, pesticides, rodent feces, lead, arsenic, other heavy metals, fertilizers, fungicides, and herbicides right into our lungs. These particles aggravate asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and allergies; in fact, particulates have recently overtaken second-hand smoke as the second greatest cause of lung cancer after smoking.

One GLB produces as much smog as 17 cars and blows 5 pounds of particulate matter into the air per hour, affecting the air of 8-14 neighboring properties. “Every time the leaf blowers are in our neighborhood, my son starts wheezing and has to use his inhaler,” said one father in Huntington, New York. Those are just a few of the reasons a group called Huntington C.A.L.M. (Citizens Appeal for Leafblower Moderation) has formed to educate local citizens about the harm caused by unregulated two-stroke Gas Leaf Blowers. The group’s goal is to limit the use of GLBs by commercial landscapers during summertime when more people are outdoors. Suffolk County received a grade of “F” for air quality for the last 14 years, and this group hopes to improve our air by placing a summertime restriction on GLBs in Huntington.

To learn more about how you can make healthier landscape decisions, come to CCE Suffolk’s Managing Landscapes Sustainably conference in Ronkonkoma on November 12. One of the speakers includes Jamie Banks, PhD, MS, Executive Director of Quiet Communities, an environmentalist and health-care scientist dedicated to promoting clean, healthy, quiet, and sustainable landscaping and agricultural practices.

Robin Simmen is Community Horticulture Specialist for CCE Suffolk. She can be reached at or at 631-727-7850 x215.