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Soil Testing for Beginners

Are you planning to fertilize your lawn this year? How much and what type of formulation should you use? Is the soil pH in your garden a proper level for growing what you want to grow? If you plan to amend your soil, how do you know what to add?

These questions can be answered by doing a soil test. A soil test will indicate the nutrient levels already present in your lawn so you will know how much and what types of fertilizers are needed.

For every Saturday in April between 9am and 3pm, Master Gardeners from the Washtenaw Country Extension Program will be on site at five locations to accept your prepared soil sample. These five sites include Downtown Home and Garden, Ace Barnes Hardware on Stadium, Dexter Mill, Chelsea Farmers Supply, and Saline Town and Country. The cost is $15 per soil sample.

Preparing a soil sample for testing takes just a little planning.

  • Start with a clean plastic pail and a trowel or spade.
  • From the area in which you plan to plant, take 10 samples of about ½ cup from random spots of one type of landscape, such as lawn, flower garden, or vegetable garden. Take soil from 3” below the turf for lawn and 7” deep for flowers and vegetables. Remove roots and other plant material.
  • Put all of the soil into the bucket and mix together.
  • Then put 1 – 2 cups of soil in a ziploc bag and bring it to one of the locations above. Master Gardeners will label your sample for testing, and you will receive the results by mail or email in time for planting season.
  • Damp soil is acceptable, but if it’s very wet, spread it out on a newspaper layer to dry it. If you want to prepare several samples such as front yard and backyard or vegetable garden and fruit trees, sample those areas separately and label them.

    Soil testing will help you determine how much and what type of fertilizer is need for the plants that you want to grow. Using the right amount of fertilizers is important because over application of fertilizers can pollute water resources, damage plants, and waste money.

    Soil testing is also available year-round from the Washtenaw County Extension Office. Participating now will save you a little money on the mailing cost and help you begin to plan for the gardening season.

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