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Back to How To....    |   How To Do a Soil Test

A soil test is a very important test that needs to be done before starting a new gardening project or every three to four years for established areas.  A gardener may wonder how a soil test works.  It begins with the gardener taking soil samples and sending them to a lab.  Once the sample reaches the lab, the elements such as phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, sulfur, manganese, copper and zinc are removed.  The amount that is removed tells the gardener what is available to the plants.  Other tests are also done on this sample and include soil pH and the amount of humic matter.  These levels will tell the gardener if lime needs to be applied and how much.

Testing the soil can also save the gardener money from application of incorrect or unneeded fertilizer.  Also a soil test can save the environment by providing the correct nutrition that the plants need and reducing runoff into creeks and streams.

To begin the process of soil sampling requires the gardener to go to the local extension office for the sample boxes and forms.  Next, all equipment needs to be gathered and cleaned.  A large bucket will be needed and should not have been used to hold any type of chemicals such as fertilizers or pesticides.  Tools, such as a soil probe, hand spade or shovel, should be cleaned to remove any soil.  Do not use tools that are made of brass, bronze or galvanized metal.  These materials will contaminate the sample with copper and/or zinc.

Once the materials have been gathered, it is time to begin the soil sampling process.  Each unique area, such as vegetable gardens, front yard, backyards, and areas with trees and/or shrubs, needs to have six to eight samples taken.  Lawns need to have the turf removed and samples taken 4 inches down while vegetable and flowerbeds need to be sampled 4 to 6 inches down.  Shrubbery areas need to have the mulch removed and samples taken from 4 to 6 inches down.

Once the sample of one unique area has been taken, place the samples in a bucket and mix thoroughly. Place sample in sample box and fill 2/3 full or to the line on the box.  Label each sample box with a name that indicates where it was taken.  This name needs to be five letters and/or numbers.  Also fill out the form for each area and make sure to match form with sample boxes.

When filling out the form, make sure to choose the correct tests.  If you desire information on general lime and fertilizer requirements indicate this on the form.  If you want information on existing nutrimental problems indicated this on the form.  Also specify what type of plant material was on the area and/or what plant material will be planted on that area.

Once the soil sample is sent off, it will take about one week to get the results.  The results will indicate any nutrient deficiencies along with prescribed fertilizer and lime rates for the area.

A soil test is an economic way of properly fertilizing your garden space.  It only takes a little time to perform the test but the results are well worth it.

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