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How to Do a Soil Test: Why You Should Test Your Soil Before You Plant

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soil

WHAT

In agriculture, soil testing is the analyzation of a soil sample determining the nutrient content, composition, and other characteristics such as the acidity or pH level. Soil testing provides a sort of snap shot of the soil fertility, as well as the expected growth potential.

WHY

Soil testing is a simple procedure that can save you lots of time and money in the long run. It’s extremely important if you’re intending to plant wildlife food plots, trees, grass, flowers, or any type of crop or garden. It’s also a necessity when trying to determine the cause of deficiencies in existing horticulture. By understanding the composition of the soil, you’ll know exactly how much lime and fertilizer to apply.

HOW 

  • Use a soil-sampling probe, an auger, a spade or shovel.
  • Use either stainless steel or chrome-plated tools. (Brass, bronze, or galvanized tools may contaminate samples with copper and/or zinc.)
  • If a shovel or a spade is used, dig a V-shaped hole to sample depth, then cut a thin core slice as shown in the illustration below.

Soil Sample shovel

 

  • Each sample should represent only one soil type or area—for example: a pasture, lawn, vegetable garden, orchard, food plot or landscaped area. From each area, take eight to twenty samples (8-12 for smaller areas, 12-20 for lager areas). Do not include mulch or vegetation in the sample.
  • Place all soil core samples for one unique area in a clean plastic bucket and mix thoroughly.
  • Pour mixture into soil sample bag, filling it about two-thirds full.

Your local UGA-Cooperative Extension Office should be able to provide you with soil sample bags, sampling instructions and information sheets for sending soil in for testing. You can also order testing kits online. For more information on both, click here.

WHERE

  • Plowed Areas – sample to the depth of the plow (usually 6 to 8 inches)
  • Pasture and No-Till Fields – sample to a depth of 4 inches.
  • Lawns and Turf – sample to a depth of 3 to 4 inches.
  • Orchards – for peach and apple orchards, sample to a depth of 12 to 14 inches. For pecans, a depth of 6 to 8 inches.
  • Gardens, Shrubs, Flower Beds – sample to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.
  • Tree Root Zones – sample to a depth of 8 to 12 inches.

Soil Sample Map

 

WHEN

Samples should be taken about 3 months prior to planting. This ensures that if the soil report recommends lime, you will have enough time to apply it and have it adjust the soil pH before you plant.

While soil samples can be taken any time of the year, generally, spring and fall are ideal. Testing should be done at the same time each year. It’s also recommended that soil be tested every 2 to 3 years, and at the same time each year.

For more information on soil testing and preparation, visit: http://extension.uga.edu/agriculture/soil/

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