Soils 101 course provides gardening and environmental benefits

  • Published: Tuesday, June 29, 2021

ST. PETERS, Mo. – Understanding your soil can help you apply the right amount of fertilizer or compost to your garden while saving money, protecting the environment and giving your plants what they actually need to flourish.

“Folks invest a lot of time, money and energy into establishing their gardens,” said Justin Keay, a University of Missouri Extension horticulture specialist. “What if you could grow a lot more vegetables in the same amount of space just by testing your soil and fertilizing your garden correctly? The good news is you can.”

Keay’s new online course, “Soils 101 for Gardener & Homeowners: Unlocking Your Garden’s Full Potential & Understanding Soil Test Reports,” helps gardeners of all experience levels understand the basics of soil management.

Keay, who is based in St. Charles County, notes that good soil management also reduces fertilizer runoff and other potential impacts. “We can all contribute to protecting our state’s natural resources,” he said.

The 90-minute course costs $20 and will be offered via Zoom at 6 p.m. on the following dates:

For more information, search “Soils 101” at

Rebecca Poon, who took Soils 101 in June, said the class enhanced what she already learned through the MU Extension Master Gardener program. Poon had felt that reading soil test results was out of her wheelhouse, but Keay broke down the complicated material to make it easy to understand.

If you haven’t tested your soil before, Keay recommends contacting your local MU Extension center. Some soils might need phosphorus, for example, while others have enough. If your soil is acidic, as most Missouri soils tend to be, adjusting it to a neutral pH can help your garden grow better. Without soil test results, it is hard to know what the soil really needs, Keay said.

 “It’s easy to throw a lot of money down the drain on nutrients you don’t need if you don’t test your soil,” he said. “It’s a small investment to make to help you grow a bountiful garden for years to come.”

Poon began gardening after she retired. In addition to tending a container garden at her residence, she helps with 12 raised vegetable beds at the Master Gardener demonstration gardens on the grounds of the St. Charles County MU Extension Center in St. Peters.

She also volunteers for the county Master Gardener program’s “Hortline,” answering gardening and landscaping questions by phone or email. “In order to do that job I have to do research on diverse topics as inquiries come in,” Poon said. “The Soils 101 course provided great insights and practical information to potential future inquiries on soil and plant management.”

Soils 101 was Angela Sorenson’s first course with MU Extension. She says homeowners can really benefit from the course.

“We’ve had a lot of trouble with our backyard,” Sorenson said. “When the subdivision was first built, it was not graded properly, and much of our topsoil was lost due to erosion. We have spent a lot of time and money trying to correct the problem. I certainly gained a lot of valuable information from Justin’s class. We have a diversity of plants in terraced gardens, from acid-loving azaleas to foliage under trees. I’m excited to take our garden to the next level with the information I learned in the Soils 101 class.”

“I think all this knowledge makes me a much better gardener,” Poon said. “I am a biologist myself, so I know soil is foundational to the living biological world. I appreciate that the program really drills into everyone the importance of soil management and conservation and provides tools on how to take care of the soil if we want it to support human life.”

“I would encourage individuals to take the Soils 101 course and ask questions,” Sorenson added. “Justin was able to provide a lot of good information, and I look forward to being a lifelong learner.”

For more horticulture information, visit

Learn about services available from the MU Soil and Plant Testing Laboratory at

Photo available:
The green beans on the right show signs of nitrogen deficiency from being planted in a raised bed with large amounts of uncomposted materials. The freshly emerged beans on the left, planted two weeks later, remain healthy because they are still feeding off nutrients in the seed. Photo courtesy of Justin Keay.

Writer: Ashley Craft

Media Contact

Justin Keay