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Soil Sampling for Homeowners

May 22, 2017
Tools for soil sampling

A soil analysis can help ensure home lawns and gardens have the right nutrients to look beautiful or produce a bounty of vegetables. However, the results and recommendations are only as good as the sample submitted. A poorly collected sample can give misleading results or fail to represent the entire area well.

Here are some helpful tips for collecting a good sample:

1. Gather the right tools

It is best to get your tools together before collecting soil samples. A soil probe is ideal for collecting samples but a sharp spade will work fine. A small trowel to break up clumps of soil is recommended. A plastic bucket is best holding the soil during sampling. A sandwich bag or sample bag to deliver your sample. Gloves are recommended for safety.

2. Gather a random sample

Collect soil from the entire area you wish to manage by collecting small samples from random locations in the area. The best patterns to use are "M" or zig-zag shapes. If your yard is less than 3 acres, it is possible to turn in one sample. You may consider submitting multiple samples if your yard has several different growing areas such as shady vs. sunny, different types of grass, or wet vs. dry areas. The same is true for gardens as vegetables, shrubs, and flowers all have different soil recommendations.

3. Submit 2 cups of soil

You should collect 2 or more cups of soil. Mix this in the bucket and place two cups in the collection bag. Be sure not to include grass, leaves, or other plant matter in the soil sample as this will alter the results. The lab requires 2 cups for analysis. Any less may make it difficult to get accurate results.

4. Plan ahead

It takes 7-10 business days to run the sample and get results. Be sure to submit soil samples in advance if you are planning to work your garden on a certain day.

5. Ask questions

A soil analysis page may be confusing to understand. Your soil sample submission comes with consultation from our horticulture educator, Ricky Kemery. This can be over the phone or with a scheduled appointment. The agriculture and natural resources educator, James Wolff, will consult on agricultural samples.

Don't do the following:

  1. Use a metal bucket for collection. The bucket may transfer elements to the soil and alter the sample results.
  2. Collect soil from only 1 or 2 spots in the yard. The more points of collection the better. Ex: Pulling one person from a football stadium who is a 40 year old man and determining the entire audience must also be 40 year old men.
  3. Include grass, large roots, mulch or leaves.
  4. Bring in a small sample. When in doubt, bring in too much soil. When we place it in our sample bag we can fill it to the line for a good sample.

Feel free to contact our office for any soil sampling questions. You may also refer to Purdue Extension publication HO-71 "Collecting Soil Samples for Testing."

Purdue Extension - Allen County charges $20 per soil sample. We only accept cash or check.

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