ISSUE 15 August 9, 2001
GET SOIL TESTED BEFORE PLANTING!
It is all too often a sad documentary - the soil gets tested after the planting, and the crop - turfgrass, trees and shrubs, along with flowers and vegetables, performs poorly. Where the crop is annual as it mostly would be with vegetables and many flowers, the problem can often be corrected for the next growing season.
Not so with the perennial plants like turfgrass and others. A case in point: a client recently sent in a soil sample after working up and seeding a football field the previous year. Nothing was growing, so naturally there was concern that something was amiss with the soil. Having it tested, the results came back with a soluble salt reading of over 15 mmhos/cm! Salts high enough that if the sample was water, ocean-going animals could do quite well in - but not grass seed! As far as farms go, 1.3 acres is small peanuts, but for athletic fields, being worked up, properly graded, fertilized, and seeded, this is quite a hefty investment to make a mistake on! Many thousands of dollars are lost in labor and machinery time, as well as the cost of supplies for the fertilizer and seed. Starting over now, will be very expensive, if it is worth it at all!
Soil tests are relatively simple to perform - especially for homeowners and landscape contractors whose value per unit is considerably higher than that of typical agricultural land. If it is worth working up and planting to something of value to enhance the home, or provide a facility for competitive recreation, then it is worth getting the soil tested. A typical soil test costs between $20- $25, depending on what is tested. Basically, the N, P, & K, along with the pH, Soluble Salts, and the organic matter, should be evaluated. If salts are suspected, then look into the Ca, Mg, and Na content as well. Having evaluated horticultural soil tests for more than 4 years, I am amazed at what is found in some samples - no wonder growth is so poor!
Now is a good time to get the soil tested. The end of the horticulture crop season is near - everything has either grown well or not; if not pull some plugs about 6 inches deep, put about the equivalent of a pint or pound in a ziploc bag, and mail to:
NDSU Soil Testing Lab
Waldron Hall, Box 5575
Fargo, ND 58105
The folks in the lab have about a century of experience between them in testing the soil, so they know what they are doing, rest assured. Be sure your sampling technique doesnít compromise the results. Make sure that:
1. The sample is representative of the area. It should be a composite of several small samples put together.
2. Donít include "bad area" soil with "good area" soil. Keep them separate, and mark the containers or bags accordingly - "problem" or "normal" - or something else equally appropriate. Be sure your complete name and address is included!
A bill will accompany the analysis and recommendations.
Ron Smith, Ph.D.
Extension Horticulturist and Turfgrass Specialist
Department of Plant Sciences