Thursday, January 15, 2015

Don't Guess - Soil Test!

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Don't guess - soil test!  That’s what Penn State says when it comes to garden soil fertility.  Regardless of your gardening style, the plants you grow require good soil fertility. This means moderate  amounts of the seventeen essential elements required by all plants.  Fortunately, Mother Nature takes care of most of these; they’re provided by soil, air and water.  That usually leaves just five elements… nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) that need adjustment.  Here’s where soil testing becomes important.  Rather than guess how much of these elements are needed, let Penn State measure them and make a recommendation specifically for your garden soil.  Within two weeks of submitting the sample you’ll receive a report and recommendations to adjust soil fertility.  This often means lime (supplying Ca and Mg while decreasing soil acidity) and fertilizer (N-P-K).  Gardening organically? No problem.  Call the Extension office and we’ll help you substitute organic sources for the fertilizer.

Convinced?  OK!  Here’s how to proceed.  Purchase a soil test “kit” from the Extension office.  You’ll pre-pay nine dollars for the testing when you purchase the kit.  Follow the instructions provided.  Prepare a representative sample of your soil by collecting sub-samples from several areas in the garden.  Each garden requires a separate kit - for example your vegetable garden requires a different kit than your lawn.  Mail the pre-addressed pouch of soil to the lab and expect results in less than two weeks.  You can collect soil samples anytime the soil isn’t frozen.
Check out Penn State’s soil test lab at  You can even obtain a soil test submission form from the site and skip the trip to our office.  The site also describes additional testing services.  Worried about arsenic or your soil’s organic matter content?  They’ll do a test for an additional fee.  Note that only a limited number of additional tests are offered.  No pesticide residue testing or testing for “unknowns.”
Like the subject of garden soils? Check out “Soil Management in Home Gardens and Landscapes” a free, eight-page publication at
Don't guess - soil test!  It's an investment in your plants' health.

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