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How To Complete A Soil Test The Right Way


A soil test should be one of the first steps you take in your landscape plan. Many of us never take this important first step, which contributes, to wasted resources and wasted time. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says soil testing is an “essential” tool that provides information on fertility and pH. Testing also indicates what amendments you should add to increase productivity of your soil. Without a soil test you may be spending money and time on adding the wrong or too much of a specific nutrient.

What is a soil test?

A soil test is a tool to help you manage the mineral nutrition of your growing plants and ensure your plants thrive. It is a quick and inexpensive way to check the levels of essential soil nutrients. It is simple to complete, simply take a sample of your soil to a lab and have it tested.

What will a soil test show you?

The test provides insight on what you can’t see just looking at your soil. The information gained will take the guesswork out of your horticultural plan. Instead of guessing what nutrients to apply to your soil and watching for results you will know the following immediately after your test:

1. Soil pH
2. The levels of potassium (K), phosphorus (P), calcium (CA), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S)
3. Your organic matter level
4. How much lime and fertilizer (organic or chemical) is needed to optimize your soil

How do I take a soil sample?

Use a spade or shovel (make sure they are clean) to dig a V shape hole 4 -6 inches into the soil. When the hole is dug then cut one ½ inch slice of the soil for the test. Take six to eight of these samples from one area. You can mix these samples together.

An example of one area would be a vegetable garden. Another example would be a lawn, a shrub area, or annual color bed. These would all be considered separate areas and need separate samples from each.

Label the samples appropriately and take them or ship them to the soil lab. Be sure you use a waterproof pen. Also take care to seal the bags so none of the separate areas mix together.

How much does a soil test cost?

This varies from lab to lab and also depends on the amount of information requested. For most landscapes this will cost less than $50. A bargain considering the value of knowing exacting what your soil needs to grow a thriving landscape. You can find a soil lab by Googling soil test, contacting your local Master Gardener Association or by reaching out to your local cooperative extension office. Once lab results are received labs may assist in interpreting data and recommend what is needed to improve the soil.

Considering the reasonable expense of the test, the ease of taking samples and the knowledge gained from the results, a soil sample should be at the top of every gardener and growers list. If you enjoyed this post please consider subscribing or following me on twitter @H2oTrends.

Richard Restuccia

Richard is a water management evangelist. He believes passionately in water efficiency and sees the financial and social benefits far too often to keep a secret. Richard is a spokesperson at industry events and on the Hill to provide direction and insight on landscape water management best practices. Richard puts his words into action through service on various boards and committees. He served on the Irrigation Association’s Board of Directors. Richard also writes for other publications and is an award winning contributor to Lawn & Landscape Magazine. In 2014 his efforts were recognized with a “Leadership in Landscape” award. He has a great interest in the supply of clean water for people in developing countries and as an outdoorsman, spends his free time running, swimming and surfing.

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