NDSU Extension - Dickey County

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Soil Testing for the New Season

Breana Kiser, Agriculture and Natural Resource Agent

Soil TestingBefore beginning to plant your garden this year, I have a question for you, “Have your soil tested.” Knowing your dirt is usually the first place gardeners growing blue ribbon tomatoes and homeowners looking to achieve an enviable green lawn should start.

NDSU Extension has the tools and tests need to get to know your dirt. The NDSU Soil Testing Lab is available year-round and offers thorough testing at a reasonable cost. The routine soil check, which is recommended for lawns and gardens, includes testing for nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), pH, soluble salt and organic matter.

To have a soil sample tested:
     1.    Locate several (2-6) spots in the site to be sampled. Spots should represent site to be sampled.
     2.    Remove non-soil (grass, thatch, leaves, plastic, etc.) layer from the surface of sample location.
     3.    Use shovel or soil extraction device to remove sample to approximately 6 inches deep.
     4.    Place sample in a pail or container.
     5.    Repeat steps 2-4 for additional depths or remaining sampling spots.
     6.    Stir soil in pail so thoroughly mixed.
     7.    For dried sample (recommended):
          •    Lay out on newspaper on the floor or table.
          •    Spread soil sample on newspaper so soil layer is about 1-inch thick.
          •    Try to break up large (golf-ball size or larger) clods in soil.
          •    If possible, use household fan blowing on sample to facilitate drying.
          •    Stir sample occasionally.
          •    Allow sample to dry at least 24 hours or until soil color does not change when stirred.
          •    Label plastic or paper bag with name, address, sample depth increment, and some sort of sample identifier, such
               as GARDEN, LAWN, etc.
          •    Place at least one pint of dried soil in bag. Brown paper sealable bags, complete with a “fill to” line and address
               block, are available at local NDSU Extension offices. But homeowners and gardeners can also use other
               receptacles, such as resealable plastic bags. Just make sure to label the receptacle or container.
     8.    Mail sample and order form to NDSU Soil Testing Lab, NDSU Dept. 7680, P.O. Box 6050, Fargo, N.D. 58108-6050.
               For UPS, Fed Ex or to drop off your sample in person, the address is NDSU Soil Testing Lab, 103 Waldron Hall,
               1360 Bolley Drive, Fargo, N.D. 58102.

A routine soil check is $20, and they will send you an invoice within a couple of weeks after your soil has been tested and you have received the results. If a gardener tests annually, he or she will know what the growing plants are taking from the soil each year. If the gardener tests his or her soil once, it can serve as a baseline. In future years, if there are problems, the baseline sample can prove helpful in determining changes.

Contact your NDSU Extension office for any questions. I will be glad to come out and help sample your garden. I have the tools needs such as a soil probe, bucket, brown sealable bag, and the order forms. The NDSU Extension office will even mail your sample for you and help you interpret your soil results.

Happy Planting!

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