By: Eddie Ayers, County Extension Agent
Taking a soil sample can be one of the most beneficial activities you can do for your ability to maximize production of the plants you are growing. Soil sample results will tell you a wealth of information, including the pH of your soil, if you need lime and if so how much you need. The report will also tell you various nutrient levels. This information will be used to determine how much fertilizer you need for proper growth of your plants.
By maintaining the proper pH and nutrient levels of your lawn, garden, field, vineyard, or orchard, many plant disorders can be averted and you will be able to maximize production. The fall is the perfect time to sample because if lime is needed, it takes a few months for it to get into the ground and correct pH problems, but a sample can be taken at any time.
The key to reliable results is proper soil sampling technique. The idea behind soil sampling is to take soil from an area of the landscape, garden, orchard, or pasture that is representative of the area you are interested planting. In other words, take a sample of an area where the plants require similar nutrient levels and pH. Go through your area and decide how many different areas you have. For example, vegetable garden, azalea bed, annual flower bed, fruit trees, and/or lawn, then take a representative sample of each of these different areas. One sample can be used for several different plants, so you don’t have to collect a sample for each crop as long as it is grown in the same area. If there are different areas, hillside, valley, etc. a sample will be recommended from each area.
The idea of a representative sample may be different to different people, but to me it means getting a small amount of soil from a minimum of ten random locations and mixing the soil together in a “soil sample bag” or clean plastic container. If there are any areas that plant growth is abnormal, then that area should be sampled separately. The more random samples you obtain from an area, the more accurate the soil test results will be. Using this technique will make you have more soil than you need, but that will be fine. Once you get a representative sample, mix the soil up thoroughly and fill up the soil sample bag to the fill line. The soil sample bag holds about 2 cups of soil. Soil sample bags can be obtained from the UGA Extension office on Progress Road in Ellijay, or you can bring the sample in your container and we’ll transfer it to the soil sample bag at the office.
We collect soil samples all week and send them to the lab in Athens every Friday morning. The results will return in about a week. Right now the cost of a soil sample is $9 per bag, but with postage going up the price may change. Sampling your lawns or gardens has the potential to save you money by taking the guesswork out of how much fertilizer or lime you need to buy.
Once you get your soil in shape, then you know when to stop adding more nutrients that you don’t need. By adding the amount of nutrients needed (and not more) not only saves you money, but prevents nutrients from moving into our lakes and rivers. If you have your soil tested every couple of years, then you will be less likely to be a cause of this inadvertent pollution. If there are any questions about soil sampling, contact me in the Gilmer County UGA Extension office.
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