Home Grown

Tips and resources for farmers and gardeners

Testing Garden Soil

When planting time arrives, how do you know if you are putting the right amount of lime and fertilizer on your lawn, garden or field? 

To be certain, this is the time to take a soil sample -- before planting a crop or garden. A soil test should be the foundation of any fertilization program.

No one call tell whether a field or garden has too much phosphorus or too little organic matter simply by smelling and touching the soil. But, a sample of the soil taken to a local extension office can be tested to determine what is needed to maximize potential.

With fertilizer costs on the rise, the results of a soil test can save a landowner or gardener money.

A soil test provides information on the nutrient levels (potassium, calcium or lime, and magnesium), percent of organic matter and lime requirements. With this
information, a fertilizer and lime program can be determined based on the needs of the plants to be grown and the condition of the soil.

When taking a soil sample from a lawn, garden or field, use a clean spade and clean pail. Push the spade deep into soil and throw out a spade full of soil.

Then, cut a one-inch slice of soil from the back of the hole with the spade. Be sure the slice goes seven inches deep and is even in width and thickness. Place this slice in the pail.

Shovel Digging in Soil

Repeat these steps five or six times at different spots over your lawn, garden or field.

Thoroughly mix the six or seven slices in the pail.

After mixing, take about one pint of soil to your local extension office.

There is usually a fee for the soil test to cover laboratory and handling costs. The total cost varies by location.

Results generally take from one to two weeks to be received and often come with recommendations on which fertilizers to use and how much to apply.

Without the information a soil test provides, growers can only guess at soil conditions, which can result in crop loss or poor blooming.

For more information on soil testing, contact your local Cooperative Extension office.

Source: Tim Schnakenberg, agronomy specialist, University of Missouri Extension


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