Soil tests are useful tools to evaluate the basic fertility of the soil. They do not provide information on soil composition, compaction, contamination or diseases and pests. Although each of these problems affect plant growth, establishing balanced nutrients in the soil is essential for a healthy lawn and garden.
Collect uniform soil from six spots within each area that needs to be tested. Uniform soil will have the same texture, color and history of growing and fertilization practices. Areas that are not similar should be tested separately. For example, soil from the lawn should be tested separately from soil in the garden. Use a soil probe, or shovel if probe is not available, to dig six- to eight-inches straight down into the soil. Shave a layer of the soil off the inside of the hole in each of the six spots and mix these collections thoroughly in a clean bucket, removing any debris.
Scoop a total of 1.5 to 2 cups of mixed soil into a plastic container such as a resealable bag. Repeat this process for each unique area that needs to be evaluated. Label the samples with the location where they were gathered. Complete online paperwork as applicable for your extension office and include it with your sample delivery.
Soil testing in the fall allows you to sample the soil when it is less likely to be waterlogged. Additionally, more organic material is available to integrate into the soil in case the test results indicate this is necessary. Soil test laboratories are typically busier in the spring, so get a jump start on this task now to save yourself from delays next year.
Cynthia Domenghini, Extension Agent