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Schmidt: Soil Testing for the Home Gardener

By Staff | May 13, 2016

Another common question that comes into my office this time of year is, “How do I soil test my vegetable garden, lawn, or flower garden?”

For starters, the unwritten rule is that soil tests can offer no better information than the sample itself. Therefore, proper collection of the soil sample is very important. Collecting a soil sample is not difficult and no fancy tools are needed, but there are a few things to keep in mind when doing so:

1.For the best results each area should be sampled and tested separately. Example- vegetable garden, flower garden, front lawn, back lawn, etc.

2.Samples should be collected from areas where soil conditions are similar. For example, if you are sampling your lawn and you have a low, wet spot in the lawn then that area should be sampled separately or if you have a “poor” area of the lawn or garden versus a “good” area.

3.Collect at the proper sample depth most home landscape areas a depth of 6 inches is recommended. Sample depth is measured from the soil surface downward.

4.Collect a representative sample also called a composite sample. This means that you will collect soil from about 2-6 areas in your lawn or garden, mix them together in a big bucket, and then pull out about a pint sized sample to submit to the soil testing lab.

5.It is important to label the bag/container with your name, phone number, and description of the sample such as: South Veg Garden

As I mentioned before, no fancy tools are needed. If you have a soil probe great! If not you can still get a good soil sample using a spade or shovel. Here’s how to collect a soil sample with a spade or shovel:

1.Open a hole with the shovel or spade from the surface to the proper sample collection depth for the area you are sampling

2.Using your shovel or a trowel, remove a 1 inch thick slice of soil from the smooth side of the hole. Do not include the thatch, rocks, other vegetative debris or litter with the soil.

3.Place soil in a clean plastic bucket.

4.Continue to take additional sub samples from the desired landscape area.

5.When desired number of sub samples have been taken, mix the samples together and reserve about 1 pint of this soil to submit to the soil testing lab following the lab’s instructions for submitting samples.

The long and short of soil sampling or any sampling for that matter is to make sure you are collecting a good representative sample from the area(s) you are testing. A good representative sample will yield the most reliable information.

For more information check out NDSU Publication H1325, “Evaluating, Preparing and Amending Lawn and Garden Soil” available online at www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/plantsci/soilfert/h1325.pdf or visit the NDSU Soil Testing Lab’s webpage at www.ndsu.edu/soils/services/soil_testing_lab/ for a list of services provided and sample submission information.

Sources: NDSU Publication H1325, “Evaluating, Preparing and Amending Lawn and Garden Soil”

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