Soil Test: What,Where,Why and How
Do you know what is in your soil? Not the generic answer: Earthworms, water, sand, silt, clay. I am talking about the specific amounts of each nutrient — the microbiological life that is teaming or suffering within the soil. Without a soil test, it is impossible to know these answers.
A soil test gives precise and accurate levels of essential nutrients such as soil pH, nitrogen, phosphorus, sodium, sulfur, potassium, and magnesium. More extensive tests can even test the microbiological levels of micro nutrients- Zinc, iron, manganese, and copper. I normally just stick with the routine analysis, this provides more than enough information. Not only do these tests tell you what is in your soil, but whether it is too much or too little, they also give you fertilization recommendations to get your soil to optimal levels of these nutrients. How can we know what to add to the garden soil if we don’t know what is already present?
Soil pH is the essential information received from the test. pH plays a vital role in nutrient availability to plant roots, nutrient run-off and microbial efficiency. You get the pH right, and other things tend to work also. Not entirely, but that’s why you follow the fertilization guidelines.
What some people don’t realize is that adding excessive amounts of fertilizer can be even worse for your garden production than under-fertilizing. Excessive amounts of specific nutrients can lead to a term known as nutrient lockout. Nutrient lockout occurs when a plant is not able to readily absorb the nutrients that are present — the main culprits that lead to this common problem; over saturation with nutrients, particularly chemical fertilizers with a high salt content or unsuitable pH levels in the soil, water, or nutrient solution. Nutrient lockout can be avoided by following the fertilization recommendation provided by the soil test.
How do I get a soil test done? Who administers these test? What do I need to do?
Easy, collect a sample and submit to an A&M, Agricultural and Mechanical University, and they will do the rest.
You collect a sample from everywhere you are interested in having tested. Keep in mind that different plants require different pH levels so, it is vital that you examine all the different areas. Do not assume that all areas of the yard are the same. These areas can include but are not limited to the front yard, back yard, planting bed, garden, etc.
Collecting a Sample
Remove mulch, decomposing matter, grass, leaf matter, etc., from the top of the area you're testing. Remove soil 6” down. Collect this soil in a bag and repeat 5-10 times for the testing area. Mix the samples and remove all plant matter from sample big. Place 1-3 cups in a heavy duty plastic bag. If soil is moist allow to air dry on newspaper overnight.
Mail to Agriculture extension office and sit back and wait. It is that easy to get your soil tested and receive a proper fertilization recommendation. Soil should be tested every few years.