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Soil Testing: A Sure Sign of Spring!

Get a soil test and make the most of this growing season for all your plants, trees and shrubs! As soon as your soil dries out, you can collect samples in your yard and garden for a soil test.

Your plants, trees & shrubs will thank you for it!

Why do a soil test? A soil test will provide recommendations for fertilizer and lime application based on the soil you have and on what you want to grow (new lawn? fruit trees? vegetable garden?).  And while you can get a soil test any time of year (as long as you can sample your soil, that is!) spring and fall are optimal times for applying many soil amendments.

A soil test will also help you avoid applying too much fertilizer. Using only the fertilizer you need will save money, keep your plants healthy, and keep excess nutrients from getting into the environment. And while you can buy home soil test kits, they are not calibrated to the soil characteristics we have in Minnesota, nor do they provide recommendations specific to your situation.

The UMN Soil Lab

The University of Minnesota has its very own soil testing lab, located on the St. Paul Campus. They offer soil testing resources to researchers, farmers, florists, gardeners and homeowners alike.

Anyone can get a basic lawn and garden soil test for $17, which will provide estimated soil texture, organic matter, phosphorus, potassium, pH and lime requirement.

The analysis will also come with a basic interpretation of results and recommendations for fertilizing and lime application (if needed). For an additional fee, you can also test and receive recommendations for lead and/or soluble salts (from excess fertilizer or road salt).

A full list of available tests can be found here.

How do I sample my soil?

Photo: Anne Sawyer

When collecting soil to send in for testing, you want your sample to truly represent your growing area of interest. You'll need to send separate samples for different applications as well, such as one for your lawn and one for your vegetable garden.

Be sure to read these instructions for sampling before heading out with your trowel and bucket! You'll need to take several samples, combine them in a bucket, mix well, and submit about a pint of mixed soil to the lab for testing.

The sample can be mailed to the lab or delivered in person.

When will I get my results?

The Soil Testing Lab's website is updated to reflect current soil testing turnaround time, so you know when you can expect your results. Typical turnaround time is 7-10 days, but may be longer during busy seasons such as spring.

And as always, if you have questions, contact either the Soil Testing Lab or your local Extension office for assistance.

Author: Anne Sawyer, Extension Educator for On-Farm Food Safety
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