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Soil Testing for the Homeowner

Publication Number: P3883
View as PDF: P3883.pdf
A large hydrangea bloom.
Take the guesswork out of liming and fertilizing your landscape. Read on to learn how to take a good soil sample.

Getting a Representative Soil Sample

Soil is highly variable. Hydrangea flowers, like the one pictured here, illustrate how small distances translate to big soil differences. Hydrangea flower color is impacted by soil pH. Acidic soil conditions favor blue flowers, and basic soils contribute to pink flowers. This plant has both blue and pink flowers, indicating a measurable jump in soil pH just in the root zone of one plant. This highlights just how important it is to sample from several locations in the designated area. One scoop of soil does not accurately represent your entire yard.

Aerial view of a property divided into three sections: back yard, front yard, and garden.
Define the area to be tested: In the picture above, the homeowner divides the property into three different areas. Each area requires its own soil sample box.
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Gather the supplies you need: soil probe, spade or shovel, plastic bucket, and sample boxes. Boxes are available at your local Extension office (or use quart-sized zip-top bags).

 

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Collect 15 to 20 different soil plugs from different places in the defined area. Remove vegetation/turf from the ground surface before collecting plugs.

 

A soil probe.
Take soil from the top 4 to 6 inches and place in a plastic bucket.

 

A bucket with soil, a soil probe, and a soil sample box.
Mix all plugs from a designated area together in a plastic bucket.

 

A soil sample box with soil.
Fill a soil sample box (or zip-top bag) with soil from the bucket.

 

A soil sample box with "front yard" as the field name.
In addition to the other information on the box, remember to label the sample name.

 

Three soil sample boxes labeled "front yard," "back yard," and "garden."
If you have multiple areas that need sampling, repeat the entire collection process.

 

Instead of paper forms, all soil samples are registered through an Extension account. The steps to complete this process are on our website: http://extension.msstate.edu/content/submitting-soil-test-the-lab.

After registering your soil sample, take the soil sample(s) to your local Extension office or mail them directly to the this address:

MSU Soil Testing Lab

P.O. Box 9610

Mississippi State, MS 39762


The information given here is for educational purposes only. References to commercial products, trade names, or suppliers are made with the understanding that no endorsement is implied and that no discrimination against other products or suppliers is intended.

Publication 3883 (POD-04-23)

Revised by Keri Jones, PhD, Laboratory Coordinator, Soil Testing Lab, from a previous edition by Keith Crouse, PhD, retired Associate Extension Professor.

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Authors

Portrait of Dr. Keri Denley Jones
Laboratory Coordinator
Soil Testing Lab