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How to Take a Soil Test for Your Lawn

Learn how to take a soil test from landscape architect Patrick Weisel in this Howcast video.


If you really want to know what's going on with your soil, you're going to have to take a soil test.

Now where do you get a soil test performed? Every state has a local county extension, and on that extension website, you're going to find a form that you can download and print out and that form is going to need to go with the soil when you send it in so that they know what crops you're trying to grow and how to label the soil.

So download the form, print it out, fill it out to the best of your knowledge, front and back, and then you're going to have to go out in your yard and you're going to have to get some soil to send to the county extension.

Now here we've started already. The first thing you're going to want to do when you take a soil test is to remove the top or the organic layer. If that's mulch or if it's turf, whatever it is, get that off of there because that's going to make the soil test seem different that the soil you have. What you're interested in doing is getting a sample of the soil that's underneath what's on the top. So we removed the turf, and then you need a spoon or here, an ice cream scoop is pretty good. You might want to avoid anything that's galvanized because the zinc can show up on the soil test and might make the results look a little different than they are. So you want a little Ziploc baggie like this, then take your scoop. Now you're down below and all the organic matter you've gotten out of there, so you're getting just the soil.

And then take a scoop, scoop a few scoops, scrape along the edge of the hole, put it into the baggie, and you're going to want to get maybe a third of the cup of soil from this hole here. And then when you've got about a third of the cup, that's about a third of what you're going to need. If there are any grass blades or organic material in there you might just go in and take that out, because that might skew your organic content reading.

So you've got about a third there. Then what you're going to want to do to get the other two thirds is make two other holes in your yard far away from this one, at equal spacing around your yard. So the combination of those three soil samples you're going to have in this bag, you're going to mix it all together so that really gives a pretty good sample of your entire yard, not one single space.

And once you've got it all in there, I'm going to seal the top. Get the air out a little bit. Roll it up. If you have a rubber band, that's a good thing to put around it. Actually you'll want to make sure if you have more than one sample of that, you label that with masking tape or something like that, or put a little piece of paper in there, and make sure that each sample stays with it's appropriate sheet. If you have multiple samples, say you're taking different lawns, "I want to know what my front lawn is. I want to know what my back lawn is. I want to know what my neighbor's lawn is, then you'll need a separate sheet for each one, to go with that sample. One simple way would be just roll it up a little bit neatly, put a rubber band around it. Then you have your envelope addressed to the local county extensions, soil testing thing, you put it in there, seal it up, send it off, and then probably about two to three weeks later they're going to send you a report back.

Now that report is going to list several things about your soil. Firstly and most importantly probably, it's going to list the pH. That's how acidic or how basic your soil is. And that's going to be very important because if you're growing turf grass you need a fairly neutral environment. The report is also going to tell you how much amendments to add to the soil to get to that proper pH. Lime, if it's too acidic, or possibly sulfur, if it's too basic. But that's rarer and harder to do. The other thing it's going to tell you that's really important is how much organic matter you have in your soil. Ideally, you want to have about five percent. And if it's low, if you have less than five percent, they might recommend that you augment your soil with a little compost or something to bring some organic matter in.

We've talked earlier about mulching your leaves in. That's an excellent way to raise organic matter in your soil.

So send it off to the county extension. Get their recommendations back and then follow those to improve your soil to improve your lawn.

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