Plan to Conduct a Soil Test This Fall
One of the best practices to conduct for the success of next year's garden or lawn is a soil test. A soil test should be taken every four or five years under normal circumstances. Soil fertility fluctuates throughout the season each year so taking the soil sample at the same time each year not allows for the comparison from one soil test to the next to see if soil fertility and pH improvements have worked but also allows for soil improvement needs to be identified.
Most soil nutrients are readily available when soil pH is at 6.5. When pH rises above this value, nutrient elements such as phosphorus, iron, manganese, copper, and zinc will become less available. When soil pH drops below 6.5, manganese can reach toxicity level for some sensitive plants.
The soil test takes the guesswork out of fertilization. It is extremely cost effective. It not only eliminates the waste of money on unnecessary fertilizers, but also eliminates over-usage of fertilizers and lime, hence helping protect the environment.
A soil sample is best taken with a soil probe or an auger (can be borrowed from the OSU Extension office). Soils are to be collected in a clean pail or box. These tools help ensure an equal amount of soil to a definite depth at the sampling site. However, a spade, knife, or trowel can also be used to take thin slices or sections of soil.
To take a soil sample, use the following guidelines: 1) Remove the top debris, residue, or turf thatch from soil before taking sample; 2) Sample gardens, trees, shrubs, flower beds, and orchards 6 to 8 inches deep; 3) Sample turf areas to 3 inches deep; 4) Sample a row crop field or garden between rows to avoid fertilizer bands; 5) Sample when soils are suitable for spading or plowing; 6) Sample fields that have received different fertility program separately; and 7) Sample separately the soils that are distinguishable by color (i.e., light vs. dark), drainage, or other factors.
The test results are only as good as the sample taken. Only a small amount of soil is needed for each test. It is extremely important to take a representative sample so that a reliable test and recommendations can be made for the entire area.
A composite soil sample is made up of several soil cores or slices. Separate samples need to be taken from lawns, gardens, flower beds, or shrub borders. A good representative composite sample should contain 10 to 15 cores or slices. More samples need to be taken if the area was recently limed or fertilized. Each core or slice should be taken at the same depth and volume at each site. Sample at random in a zigzag pattern over the area and mix the sample together in a clean plastic bucket. Separate samples should be taken from areas with distinctive soil types or plant performances. To prepare soil samples for submission: 1) Break up lumps and air dry the soil at room temperature with NO artificial heat; 2) When soil is dry, mix well and crush soil lumps to a size of wheat grains or smaller; 3) Take about 1-1/2 cups of the composite sample and place in a plastic bag or clean, dry container; and 4) Mail the sample to a soil testing lab (supplies and mailing information can be picked up at the OSU Extension office in the Wyandot County Courthouse). Soil test results and fertilizer recommendations will be mailed to you in about one week to ten days.
Chris Bruynis, Extension Educator
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