, Newburyport, MA

January 30, 2013

Tim's Tips: Test will check for lead in soil

Tim's Tips
Tim Lamprey

---- — Last week, I had talked about how the soil in your yard can affect growing plants. Shortly after that column was printed, I received a note from a reader who has another potential problem with the soil in her yard.

Jean recently bought a home that was built in the 1800s. One of her neighbors told her that, due to the fact that lead paint was used on the house for years, the soil might be contaminated with lead. She is wondering if it is safe to plant vegetables in the soil.

This question has come up many times over the years. If the house had been scraped down prior to re-painting over the years, there may be lead in the soil. The highest concentrations of lead would probably be near the house. In areas farther away from the home, there may be no lead in the soil.

The best way to find out is to send several soil samples away for testing. There is a soil-testing lab at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. You can go online, download the testing instructions and then send the soil samples to them.

This service can also test for the pH of the soil and the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in the soil. The testing can tell you the structure of the soil. There is a charge for this service, but it will provide you with a wealth of information about the soil in your yard.

Even if you receive a positive test for lead, you will learn as to what degree the soil is contaminated. If you have lead, it is possible to use raised beds to grow your vegetable plants. A positive test does not mean that you cannot have a vegetable garden. Get the soil testing done in the spring and then you will have a better idea of what you will need to do to have a vegetable garden.

It has been a cold few weeks and many of you are probably longing for spring. You can bring some spring into your home if you take some pruning shears and go out into your yard. If you have forsythia bushes, prune some branches and bring them into the house. Place the branches into a vase of water and, in a short period of time, the forsythia branches will come into bloom. Seeing those bright yellow flowers in your home will really help with spring fever.

We have also have available, in our store, some primrose plants that are in bloom; ditto for pots of miniature daffodils and cyclamen. Also, we have paperwhite bulbs and amaryllis bulbs. There is no reason to suffer from spring fever when the cure is available.

Well, that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week.


Tim Lamprey is the owner of Harbor Garden Center on Route 1 in Salisbury. His website is Do you have questions for Tim? Send them to, and he will answer them in upcoming columns.