In my last post, I talked about why it is importance of getting your soil tested. In this post, I would like to share how to take a soil sample. Soil labs do not need much soil for their testing. I know when I send out customers’ soil samples that I need a scoop of soil to fill to the line of the sample bag. You want the first four inches of the soil to do your testing. When collecting your soil, you want to make sure that there are no grass or roots in the sample. Make sure your soil is not wet or frozen either; you need a dry sample to send to the lab. I also advise when you take your sample of soil to wear disposable gloves or use a clean hand trowel. The natural oils on our hands can contaminate the soil sample that you want to get tested and we want our interaction with the soil to be as minimal as possible.
I also hear a lot from my customers that they have a HUGE yard and if I need six different samples from this huge yard. My answer is always no. I always recommend to get a bucket and to put multiple samples in the bucket - best number of samples to pull at ten to fifteen samples. When you have as many samples in your bucket that you feel comfortable with, mix everything together really well and put it in your sample bag. This will give you a median of your soil. Do not use a galvanized container ; the galvanized container can contaminate the sample with zinc.
There are times I would advise to break this rule in the event you have a huge problem area. Problem areas can include an area where there is a shady area with a lot of pines and oaks. Both pine needles and oak leaves can lower pH - we know from my last post here that if the pH is too low, turf grass cannot thrive.
Same concept goes for both ornamental and vegetable gardens - take multiple samples and mix it all together to send out a median of the area. If certain plants are not thriving, take a sample near that plant to find exactly what is lacking. My garden center goes through Spectrum Analytic Inc in Ohio. When I register and do the paper work before I send out the soil sample, I have the ability to choose a crop and Spectrum Analytic Inc. will send back their recommendation for that crop. Plants have different nutrient needs just like how us humans have different dietary needs.
You can send out a soil sample at any time as long as the ground is not frozen. I prefer to see samples go out in both the spring and the fall because that is when our grass is/our plants are coming out of dormancy or going into dormancy, fall and spring respectively. Also, because we are going through spring and fall clean up and these are times to do our granular application products.
I hope my tips on taking soil samples has been beneficial. The health of our soil is very important for plant growth. I really encourage if you have not taken a soil sample in a few years or if you have not taken one at all - take a sample and send it out to your local garden center or your cooperative extension agency. As for my international readers, I would contact your local garden center or contact the governing agency that presided over agricultural policies and affairs. Thank you so much for reading my article on taking a great soil sample! I have more great articles on my soil sample series coming your way! What subjects on soil would you like me to cover? Let me know in the comments!