Gardening 101: Do You Have Safe Soil?

With the help of the NC Cooperative Extension and NC State assistant professor Dr. Matt Polizzotto (read more about his research), here’s the scoop on ensuring safe soil. With urban gardening exploding in popularity, this guide and the tips below will help you develop a good-for-you garden.

Dig into the site’s history.

Before you set up a garden, research how the land (and nearby land) were used in the past. Potential red flag uses include manufacturing and industrial sites, landfills and junkyards, dumping sites, former farmland, and highway corridors or parking lots.

Test the soil.

If the land’s history raises your eyebrows, consider hiring a soil testing company or licensed soil scientist for comprehensive testing. Even if your site’s history suggests it’s safe, soil testing offered by the state of North Carolina could unearth recommendations that will make your gardening more successful. Learn more with the Gardener’s Guide to Soil Testing.

Reduce exposure.

Most land is impacted by human activity, creating a high likelihood that your potential garden site is exposed to some contaminants. It’s important to keep risk in perspective and realize that simple actions can mitigate most common contaminants. Wear garden gloves and wash your hands after working in the garden. Wash plants harvested from the garden before eating. If your soil is moderately contaminated, install raised beds and fill with imported healthy soil. Apply compost and lime, if indicated by soil testing.