Before applying fertilizer to your lawn or garden, a soil test is recommended. Testing will tell you the pH level of your soil, and let you know how much and what type of fertilizer you will need. The best time to get soil samples is usually in the fall, when conditions are relatively dry. This will also allow you time to get the right product before Spring green up. Skipping this step could lead to purchasing a product that isn’t very effective for your needs. It could also allow disease to move in and damage your lawn.
Trees and shrubs, lawn, vegetable and flower gardens should all be tested separately. Soils will vary from within the state, your community and even your yard. Use a soil probe to take separate samples for each area you wish to test.
Work the probe into the ground, going four inches deep in established lawns. For garden beds, go six to eight inches deep. Collect five or more cores from the area you are testing, then mix them together to make a representative sample. This should be around twocups of soil. Put the two cups of soil in a clean plastic bag. You can also get soil sample bags from your county extension office.
Make sure to avoid problem areas such as ditches, fencerows, hills, eroded areas, and pet waste areas. Take samples anytime the ground is not frozen and is reasonably dry.
You should now take your sample to your local county extension office. Make sure to label the sample with your name, where the sample was taken from, and fill out an information sheet as provided by your extension office. A small fee is usually associated with testing and may take two to three weeks to get results. Soil tests may need to be done every three to five years.