How To – Soil Testing

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    Soil Testing is a great way to understand more about your lawn and garden. There are a variety of tests that can be performed by the home owner but a professional testing service can give you more accurate information about the chemical makeup of your soil. This is important for different types of plants vegetables and lawns.

    Most plants will grow in a range of 6.1 to 6.9 ph level this means the soil will be slightly acidic. For most of us adding acid is not a problem since acid rain will increase the ph level of our soil but once ph levels get higher you will need to add a lime to bring the ph back into a good growing range.

    Some elements like a more acidic soil and once the ph level is lower then about 6.5ph phosphorus, iron, manganese, copper, and zinc will become less available to your plants.

    When should you get a Soil Test?
    Garden Centers will start offering soil test kits in the early spring that you can mail away to your local agricultural college or testing center. Professional gardeners or farmers will want to get tests performed before they apply any fertilizers and home gardeners can have the test performed about once every 3 years.

    What Soil Sampling Tools Do I Need?
    A soil sample is best taken with a soil probe or an auger. Soils should be collected in a clean plastic pail or box. These tools help ensure an equal amount of soil to a definite depth at the sampling site. However, a spade, knife, or trowel can also be used to take thin slices or sections of soil.

    How Do I Take Soil Samples?
    Remove the top debris, residue, or turf thatch from the soil surface before taking the sample.
    Sample gardens, trees, shrubs, flower beds, and orchards 6-8 inches deep.
    For the lawn, lift the sod and sample 3 inches deep.
    Sample a row crop field or garden between rows to avoid fertilizer bands.
    Sample when soils are suitable for spading or plowing.
    Take separate samples from fields that have received different fertility programs.
    Take separate samples from soils that are distinguishable by color (i.e. light vs. dark), drainage, or other factors.
    The test results are only as good as the sample taken. It is extremely important to provide a representative sample to the testing lab so that a reliable test and recommendations can be made for the entire area. This can be accomplished by submitting a composite sample. A good representative composite sample should contain 10-15 cores or slices. Each core or slice should be taken at the same depth and volume at each site. Sample at random in a zigzag pattern over the area and mix the sample together in a clean plastic bucket.

    If you have an amended vegetable garden then you should not intermix that soil with soil from flower beds or lawns. Doing so will give a false report since higher quality soil will be mixed with general grade soil.

    Samples should not be intermixed from lawns, gardens, flower beds, or shrub borders. You will need separate tests for each zone if the soil has been amended.

    How to Prepare Soil Samples for Submission
    Contact a soil testing lab for instructions, soil test kits, and appropriate forms.
    Break up lumps and air dry the soil at room temperature with no artificial heat.
    When the soil is dry, mix well and crush soil lumps.
    Take about one pint of the composite sample and place it in the sample bag associated with the kit.

    Where Do I Send My Soil Sample?
    Garden Centers may provide a prepaid sample bag and mailer that you can drop in your mailbox. If you don’t get a kit at a local garden center then the company or college you contact should provide you all the information you need. 

    See Our Manufacturers Directory For a listing of Soil test Labs.

    How Long Does the Soil Test Take?
    Soil test results and fertilizer recommendations are usually mailed in two weeks, depending on the labs you work with.

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