Soil Testing – How to take a soil sample

A soil test is the first step for your lawn, garden or farm before you start applying fertilizers to your soil. It will also inform you about the pH of your soil and will exactly tell you what nutrients are low in your soil. The best time to get your soil sample is in the fall, when conditions are relatively dry so that you are ready for spring. Soil pH is measured on a scale of 0 to 14, with 0 being acidic and 14 being alkaline. The optimal point on the scale is 7, which is considered neutral or balanced. Although, some plants do better with a slightly more acidic soil of 5 or 6. Once you know where your soil lands on the pH scale, you can add amendments to neutralize it.

Soils will vary from farm to farm and garden to garden and even spots within your garden so its important to take a representative sample from several locations. Use a soil probe to take separate samples for each area you wish to test.

Work the probe into the ground, going 4-6 inches depending upon the type of crops you grow in your farm or the type of plants in your garden. Ideally you should get samples from five or more places, then mix them together to make a representative sample. Make sure to avoid problem areas such as ditches, hills, eroded areas, and pet waste areas. This should be around two cups of soil or about 1 lb of soil. Put the two cups of soil in a clean plastic bag. You can also get soil sample bags from your county extension office.

You should now take your sample to your local county extension office. Make sure to label the sample with your name, where the sample was taken from, and fill out an information sheet as provided by your extension office. A small fee is usually associated with testing and may take two to three weeks to get results. Soil tests may need to be done every three to five years.

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