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University of Minnesota Extension

Test your soil this spring

Even though there still may be snow in the forecast, it’s time to think about testing your soil to prepare for summer.

Whenever we get questions about fertilizing lawns and gardens at Extension, we always ask if a soil test was done on the area in question. Submitting a soil test to a lab is the best way to determine the state of your soil. The soil test results will give you recommendations to improve performance and you will save time and money by following lab-driven results.

When and what to test

It is best to do a soil test every three to five years and when you are making a change such as converting lawn to a garden bed. The University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory offers soil tests for $19.

The basic soil test, without any add-ons, will give you the estimated soil texture, organic matter, phosphorus, potassium, pH and lime levels in your soil. You also can request tests for calcium and magnesium; zinc, iron, copper and manganese; boron, nitrate, lead and soluble salts for an extra fee. The test results will come with recommendations for fertilizing.

How to collect a soil sample

Collecting the soil sample is an important step in the process. If you are sampling in a field or garden, walk and collect in a zig-zag pattern across the area. If you are sampling from raised beds or in a high tunnel, collect soil samples from the beds rather than the areas between them. Taking samples from an orchard or vineyard requires collecting samples within rows between plants.

This step-by-step video (00:05:29) shows how to take a soil sample for testing.

Your local county Extension office can provide you with free soil sample bags and submission forms.

Find more information on managing soil and nutrients and your yard and garden and start off the growing season with a soil test.

Author: Emily Hansen, Extension horticulture educator in Wright, McLeod and Meeker counties

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