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When's a soil test in order?

When's a soil test in order?

If you're planning to put in a new lawn, a vegetable plot, or shrubs and you suspect nutrient deficiencies in your garden soil, a soil test may be in order. There's still time to correct fertility, degree of acidity or alkalinity (pH), or other soil problems if you haven't finished spring planting.

Laboratory soil testing can be expensive. In California, a basic fertility test by a commercial lab costs more than $30. In other Western states, cooperative extension labs charge up to $15.

Before getting a test, ask neighbors about any problems they've had with their soil. The county extension office or a nurseryman can fill you in on the soil characteristics of your area. If your lawn or plants are dying, check first to make sure the cause is not overwatering, poor drainage, insects, or disease.

To find a soil-testing lab, call your county extension office for the address of one in your area. The lab will send you instructions on collecting a specimen. A soil probe or auger is usually recommended, but a clean trowel or shovel is fine. Don't collect soil in a recently fertilized plot ?? the results will reflect the nutrients you've just added.

You can take the sample to the lab yourself or ship it in a sturdy box. Ask for fertilizer recommendations in the report. In addition to an analysis of your soil's nutrient levels, you'll get brief suggestions on how to improve your soil.

Soil test kits available at some nurseries provide a very rough estimate of fertility; their results may be difficult to interpret or inconclusive.

Photo: Soil from several spots in garden is mixed in bucket, then a pint of it is scooped into plastic bag for analysis
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Date:Mar 1, 1984
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