Yard & Garden Report


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Improving your land

This is a good time to test your soil. A fertile soil can lead to a great yard and garden.

Front yard of Victorian homeThe first step to having a great landscape is to have great land. Your soil is the foundation to everything you do in your yard and garden.

Fortunately, North Dakota has some of the best soils on earth. Our fertile soils make us a leading agricultural state in the nation.

Unfortunately, North Dakota has some of the worst soils on earth. We have pockets of lifeless, sandy soil loaded with salts.

North Dakota has some of the most altered soils on earth. The economic boom of North Dakota is disturbing thousands of acres of land every year. The stripping and movement of topsoil on home construction sites is commonplace.

In sum, the soils in our state can be great or terrible—and sometimes both on a single property. It’s important to understand your soil and how you can provide your landscape with the best foundation you can.

A soil test for a garden or landscape costs $18, but the rewards can be significant. A productive garden can produce hundreds of dollars of vegetables each year. Soil test kitAn attractive landscape can add thousands of dollars to your property. A soil test is a great investment.

Getting your soil tested is easy. Choose an area of your landscape you want to get tested. In many cases it makes sense to get a soil analysis for your lawn and a separate analysis for your garden. Maybe you have a mysterious problem spot in your landscape—a soil analysis might be good for this spot, too.

To take a sample, use a small shovel and a clean container (a 5-gallon pail works well). We want our sample to be representative of the entire site and so let’s take samples from several spots in the site. I was taught to make a path in the shape of a “W,” taking a soil sample at every turn.  Go about 4–6 inches deep and add the soil to the pail. Remove any leaves or roots from the sample. Mix the soil together to prepare a single composite sample. Put one cup of the sample into a paper bag and mail it to the NDSU Soil Testing Laboratory.

The lab will analyze the soil for major nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) as well as soil pH (acidity/alkalinity), salt content, and organic matter content. You will receive the results of the analysis and recommendations on how to fertilize your land in the future.

Now is a good time to get a soil test done. You will receive the results within a couple weeks and have time to make adjustments in your garden/lawn before winter arrives. Fall is the most important time to fertilize a lawn and it makes sense to know what type of fertilizer it needs.

Soil sample forms, mailing instructions, and more information is available at your local county Extension office or online at www.ndsu.edu/soils/services/soil_testing_lab/.


Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report, July 28, 2014. The photos were made available under Creative Commons licenses specified by the photographers: Bill Barber and Kate.

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