ST. CLOUD, Minn. — As the temperatures continue to warm and frost comes out of the ground, many of us are itching to spring into lawn and garden work. One of the first things on your to-do list might be getting a soil test done.

This time of year, I get numerous phone calls about fertilizers and other soil additives. Sending a sample of your soil to a qualified lab can remove the guesswork out of fertilizer recommendations. This not only makes good economic sense, but also helps ensure fertile soils without excess fertilizer application. Excess fertilizer can result in undesired vegetative versus fruit production growth and contribute to pollution in the environment.

Results of the soil test include data on soil fertility, pH, and organic matter. In addition, fertilizer recommendations are provided according to the soil test data. A standard test from the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory will include soil texture, organic matter, phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and pH. The most common fertilizer used for a fertility program is nitrogen.  Nitrogen (N) is not commonly included with the test results because of its mobile and ever-changing chemical forms in the soil. However, recommendations are given based on lawn care practices, plant or crops being grown as indicated on the form.

More than one sample may need to be collected and analyzed in your yard and garden. For example, one sample from your vegetable garden and a second from your lawn should be collected. The soil test form provides instructions on how to collect a sample.

The University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory completes soil analysis for farm or for home and garden. A local private lab may also be an option for you. 

The standard soil test from the University of Minnesota will cost $17. Additional testing can be added for small fees but starting with the basic test is usually recommended.

Most county Extension offices have the submission forms and soil testing bags. The information can also be found at http://soiltest.cfans.umn.edu/testing-services/lawn-garden.

This article was submitted by Katie Drewitz, University of Minnesota Extension.

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