Problems with landscape plants -- help please !!


As this message will demonstrate, I am a "green thumb" about plants, and no nothing about nutrients, etc. But, I have lived in this same house for over 30 years, and have simply bought and planted many plants over the years without the slightest problem.
Around the front perimeter of my house, I have planting areas that are bordered with brick. Over the years, I have planted plants and shrubbery such as heather, ilex, shilling, etc. About a year ago, MOST of these plants and shrubbery started turning yellow, and then eventually all died out. This happened over the course of about 3 or 4 months. I have tried planting other replacement plants and they have died within a month or so of planting. Keep in mind please that this is the same planting area that I have used without problems for 30 years.
I got one of those soil testing kits to test the soil for nutrients, and I closely tested the soil. The results were that the ph is "neutral" with a number 7 result. But, I did find that the Nitrogen level was "low" and the Phosphorous and Potash are both "very low." So, surely these low levels of these elements must surely be at least part of my problem.
I have not done an "iron" test, because I don't know how to test for iron. Does anyone know if they make a test kit for iron levels in soil ?
To help the low levels of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potash, I bought some fertilizer with good ratios of these nutrients and spread it into this planting area , and watered it in real good. I repeated this 3 times over several weeks. I did not "dig" the fertilizer into the soil, as I have this area mulched, and I would have to remove all of the mulch. But, the fertilizer was the powdery type, and I assumed the watering would work it into the soil.
I planted some new heathers. When I planted them, I did mix some of this fertilizer into the soil, mixing real evenly. I put in a decent amount, but did not over do it. I watered them in using Miracle-Gro, and fertilzed with the same each week. Within a week, some of the leaves on the plants started turning yellow, and within 2 weeks many leaves are brown and are falling off. These plants will be dead in another two weeks. This is baffling to me.
From trying to research on the internet, I believe I could be seeing chlorosis, resulting from iron deficiency. I bought an iron supplement (can't think of the name, but it was liquid) and poured it into the planted areas. This hasn't helped yet, but I don't know if I did it right. Without an iron test, I don't even know if this soil lacks iron.
Any ideas on what I have tried and what I might try now ? Is there a test for iron ? If my soil is low on iron, what is the best way to add iron ? I have read of chelated iron, which I assume is more of a slow-release type. Do you think this would help?
If my soil is indeed "low" on Nitrogen, and "very low" on Phosphorous and Potash, what is the best way of adding these nutrients? Do I need to remove the soil, dig up the soil, and mix in the fertilizer ?
Please give me any comments or recommendations that you can think of !! I really need help on this one.
--James--
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I have a soil sample kit in front of me as I haven't had the tests made. These are options at my state university where they are to be sent.
1. Regular series (pH, lime, P, K) $7 2. Regular series + O.M $10 3. Regular + Zinc $11 4. Regular + O.M + zinc $11 5, pH and lime only $4
Above it says "$7 per sample to test for lime requirement, phosphorous, and potash)"., so that must be #1, nothing about iron. Can't find what O.M is.
I would call my local extension service or the place in your state that does the testing and ask if there is a test for iron.
This probably isn't the case with you, but I'm not sure some highly-concentrated chemical wasn't spilled in one of my spots that would cause trouble for an indefinite period, and it doesn't say anything about testing for that.
You can buy liquid nutrients to replenish your soil so you don't have to dig them in. While I was waiting, I'd maybe stick in some beans and see what happens because they grow fast, also they are legumes and have that nitrogen-fixing bacteria. I wouldn't put any more fertilizers or additives into the soil until you get it figured out.
Sorry I can't be more help. I need to call and ask about chemical and iron, too, before I go to all the trouble to do the samples and pay for them.

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[snip] Within a week, some of the leaves on the plants

fertilizer or iron deficiency. That would be a long-term process with your plants gradually losing vigor and deteriorating.
It sounds to me like there is something active which is killing your plants. Possible considerations:
Soil contamination with a herbicide Grossly excessive water Salt contamination
Without knowing where you live I can't do more than suggest you look in these areas, but consider what may have happened in your area in the period just before your plants started dieing a year ago.
Does your water softener now drain into the planted areas? Did you or a neighbor do something that drastically changed the way rainwater flows around your property? Was something spilled, such as gasoline, paint, herbicides? Did you use a lot of salt to clean your walkway, which got shoveled over your plantings? Did you pressure clean your walk or house with a commercial product that includes bleach? Did you apply a mold-killer to your walkway or siding?
Also, scrape away some of the mulch and probe through the first 12" of dirt to see how moist it is. If you're in a clay area and watering regularly you may be flooding your plants underneath the mulch. Good luck, and let us know what results you get -- Regards
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JimR wrote:

I agree with Jim. For plants to be in bad shape within a week or two of planting means something is very wrong and it can't be nutrient or mineral deficiency. Most of the soil the plants are in contact with would be the soil they came with. Something like a herbicide, chemical, salt, etc. has to be in the surrounding soil which is causing the problem.
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