I tried. I wrote an article about watering trees in the winter, I washed the car and I sold a pair of skis. But none of it did the trick. Our weather seems to get only warmer, and even the few storms with potential have petered out.
So I see us being inundated with news about the drought for the foreseeable future, and I’ll be adding to it. But not today because I have a serious question for you: Do you know your CEC? When was the last time you had it checked? Do you have the report or are you just guessing?
I’m here to tell you that having your cation exchange capacity (CEC) measured is one of the best things you can do – for your soil.
Your soil’s CEC is an important characteristic that gardeners, farmers and land managers need to understand.
Take yourself way back to high school chemistry, and you may faintly remember what cations are – positively charged ions (conversely, anions are negatively charged ions). Soil clay particles and organic matter particles are predominately negatively charged, so they attract cations (remember: opposites attract!). But, in a very simplistic way, there is only so much room on that soil particle, so if a cation (for the plant’s sake, let’s focus on the cations calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, iron and hydrogen) or two attaches itself to the soil particle, a cation or two comes off. Hence the term: cation exchange capacity.
Now, those cations can slowly move down through the soil and not be taken up by a plant’s roots. However, plant roots, which may be located in the spaces between soil particles (which are hopefully filled with some water), can capture the cations, pass them through the cell membranes and use them as nutrients to fuel their growth, among other things.
Different soils have different CEC values. Sandy soils have relatively low values (fewer negative charges), so the cations will move more quickly through these soils than, say, a clayey soil rich with organic matter that has high CEC values. Why is this important? Well, we tend to have clayey soils. As gardeners, we like to curse them because they stay cold in the spring, they never drain, and when they dry out, they’re as hard as a rock. Points all well taken.
But know that they are also nutrient-rich, and if you have a good amount of organic matter, which will allow the water to drain at a more even rate, you can have a really good soil. Remember, plants can get their needed nutrients through root-uptake from the soil solution (water). So if you have a sandy soil, know that water and the nutrients pass through very quickly, meaning the more you have to water, the more you may have to fertilize.
If you want to measure your soil’s CEC, organic matter, nutrient levels and all sorts of other good information, grab a soil test kit from the Extension Office at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, 2500 Main Ave.
Samples are sent to our lab in Fort Collins, and after testing, you will receive a report. Confused about what all those numbers mean? Give me a call, and I’ll be happy to explain.
Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6464.Darrin Parmenter