It’s easy to do and not outrageously expensive (approx. $15.00).
Try to do this early in the season so you get the most out of your soil specific recommendations. The lab results will tell you exactly what you need to add to your soil to give you the optimum growing conditions for your plants.
Applying the correct amendments to your soil will help improve the nutritional balance in your soil and save you money in the long run by having healthy, trouble-free plants. When you only apply fertilizer that is actually needed, it will also help prevent excessive fertilizer contributing to runoff contamination.
Each state has their own cooperative extension that can be reached online at www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/index.html (look for Plant and Soil Testing Services or Diagnostics). This site will help you get your particular states info on how to take a soil sample and where to send it for evaluation.
In Massachusetts we go online to www.umass.edu/soiltest to download instructions, fill out the form, take some soil samples and mail them to UMASS along with a check. Results take a week or two during off peak and are returned by either e-mail or US mail. Some websites even have current turn around time for getting your results.
It’s a good idea to take several samples for each location. You can test specifically for lawn areas, vegetable gardens, flowers, trees and shrubs etc…
A Standard $10.00 Soil Test in Massachusetts measures: pH, Buffer pH, Extractable Nutrients (P, K, Ca, Mg, Fe, Mn, Zn, Cu, B), Extractable Aluminum, Cation Exchange Capacity, Percent Base Saturation. Also Included, Extractable (and Estimated Total) Lead.
For $5.00 more they will measure the percent organic matter by loss on Ignition.
How to take a soil sample? Follow this recipe.
For a perennial bed, use a spade to take several slices of soil in different areas of your perennial garden. Slice straight down into the bed using the top 8” of soil. Put it in a large clean zip-lock bag and mix it up.
Take 1-2 cups of the mixed soil and put it in a smaller zip top baggie and allow it to dry out before mailing. Do not heat in the oven or microwave — that really smells. Just let it dry naturally with the baggie unsealed.
Use permanent marker on the outside of the baggie to identify your name, address, type of garden the soil will be used for and any codes particular to your state’s testing services. Seal the baggie (eliminate excess air) and place it in a larger baggie with the papers needed for the testing. Seal the larger baggie ( eliminate excess air for shipping) place it in a padded envelope or small box and mail it.
Your results will give you specific recommendations for your particular garden. Read them carefully and follow the directions. Your plants will thank you.
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