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“Test…Don’t Guess” – Soil Sample to Create Healthy Productive Soils

It’s that time of year again, and I’m not talking about football or the changing of the seasons with cooler weather creeping in. It is soil testing time! Right now, is the best time of the year to test your soil.

Take a minute to think about the following questions: How did your garden produce this year? Do you want better yields? How about your lawn? Was it struggling?

The key to producing high yielding gardens or lush green lawns is soil testing! A simple soil test submitted to your local OSU Extension office will provide you the information you need you to have best looking lawn you’ve ever had or the high yielding fruit and vegetable plants which to share with family and friends or to canned and preserve for later consumption.

Why is now the best time to sample compared to spring, when most people sample? Soil samples taken in late summer and fall are better than those taken in winter through spring because they come closer to representing the soil’s nutrient level as it affects plants.

Why test your soil? Proper fertility is the foundation for successful crops, gardens, and lawns. Soil testing provides information about soil pH (one of the most critical factors affecting plants), the amount nutrients in your soil, and provides lime and fertilizer recommendation to maximize production.

To obtain proper lime and fertilizer recommendations for your soil, it is important to submit a high-quality soil sample to labs for analysis. The soil collected needs to be representative of the area being tested. For small areas and lawns, take 7 to 10 randomly selected soil borings. For a large field, subdivide into 10-acre plots and take 20 – 30 borings for each 10-acre plot. Avoid taking borings from abnormal areas (wet spots, bare spots, eroded areas, etc.); for it will not be representative of the sampling area. Your OSU Extension office can provide a soil probe to assist in taking your samples at no cost. You should call the OSU Extension office ahead of time to check the availability of the probe – it really makes taking a soil boring much easier and quicker.

To collect the soil, use a soil probe, an auger, shovel, or spade to lift the soil from the ground. Take small uniform cores or thin slices from the soil surface to the recommended depth (contact OSU Extension office for depth recommendation). All borings or slices should always be taken at the same depth. Place the soil in clean plastic pail or container and remove any vegetation and rocks.

Once you gathered all your borings or slices and placed them into the same clean plastic bucket, mix the soil together and gently crush any clogs. Be sure to discard any roots, stones or any other organic matter like grass, leaves, worms, etc. Then pull out about one cup of mixed soil from the bucket. If the soil is wet or damp, it must be air-dried in a shady clean spot before mailing. Never heat the sample or put it in direct sunlight. Once dried, place the soil into in a plastic zip-lock bag and label it.

Lastly, take your sample to the local OSU Extension office. Allow up to three weeks for the samples to be processed and results made available. The soil sample results will make recommendations on how much lime and fertilizer to add. Just remember, lime is typically added in the fall and fertilizer is typical added in the season it is needed. The OSU Educator can and will sit down and individual review your results with you. This is part of the service the extension office provides.

For more information about soil testing, please contact your local OSU Extension office or click the link to OSU’s factsheet, “Soil Testing for Ohio Lawns, Landscapes, Fruit Crops, and Vegetable Gardens”: http://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/hyg-1132.

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