While it may seem trivial, soil testing is perhaps one of the most important steps for maintaining a sustainable landscape while also protecting the health of our lakes and streams.
For many of us, fertilizing our lawn is done on autopilot—twice a year, with an application in spring and another in fall. However, many soils in the Midwest already contain enough phosphorus to support a healthy lawn. One way to find out for sure is to do a soil test. Soil tests can help you understand what nutrients (like phosphorus) are present in the soil and if additional nutrients need to be applied.
Why take a soil test?
- Save money long-term.
- Discover lawn problems.
- Maximize lawn care efforts.
- Protect the environment.
It is recommended that you test your soil every three to five years, or more often if working to correct an issue. Always test prior to a new planting or renovation. Trouble spots should be tested separately.
- Inexpensive, commercially available, at-home test kits are not accurate.
- Choose a certified lab that will give you recommendations for needed amendments. You can contact your local university extension office for further help interpreting results.
- Test costs range from $10-65, depending on specific test requests and whether testing materials are provided.
When sampling your lawn, you will likely need to collect soil from a depth of 3-6 inches at no more than 10-15 random sites. Remove any vegetation or large debris, break up clumps, and dry at room temperature. Mix into one, homogenous sample. You will send about a cupful to a lab for analysis. Be sure to follow any specific instructions from your selected lab.
The videos below will give you more information about how to collect soil and take a soil test, as well as what to do with your test results. Visit the Soil Testing Labs Map when you’re ready to select a lab.