Did you know that the major cause of algae blooms is too many nutrients in the water? We all have a responsibility to help reduce the likelihood of harmful algal blooms in places like the Little Miami River, Caesar's Creek Lake, Landon Lake, and other ponds, lakes, and streams in our community. Before you head out to shop for your outdoor landscape this spring, consider purchasing a soil test from us here at the Soil & Water Conservation District. Or, if you have a lawn service, make sure they conduct a soil test before adding anything to your lawn.
We sell soil test kits for $15 ($20 to add an organic matter test) during regular business hours at our office located in Lebanon at 320 E. Silver Street. Or you can give us a call at 513-695-1337 and we can mail you a test for an additional postage cost of a dollar or more.
Some of the questions we often get are listed below:
How do I take a soil sample?
- Obtain an MSUE Home Lawn and Garden Soil Test Mailer from the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District.
- Decide which one lawn or garden area you would like to test. You can determine a area by land use or what you plan to plant. Separate soil test should be done for each land use (i.e. vegetable garden, flower garden, front lawn, back lawn, trees and shrubs, etc.)
- Use a spade or a trowel and a clean plastic pail.
- Collect 10 random soil samples from this lawn or garden area. Each of these samples should be about 1/2 cup. Obtain samples across a zig-zag pattern.
- To collect your sample, remove a slice of soil BELOW the depth of the root structure (usually 3-4 inches deep for lawn; 7 inches deep for all other plants).
- Do not include roots, thatch or other plant materials in the sample.
- Mix the 10 sub-samples together. If the soil is wet, spread it on paper and allow to air dry overnight before filling the sample bag. Do not use artificial heat (i.e. radiator, oven, microwave, hair dryer, etc.) to force-dry the sample.
- Place roughly 1 cup of the well-mixed soil inside a plastic bag and place in the cardbord box and seal carefully. Do not overfill the plastic bag.
What does it test for?
Your soil test will determine the soil nutrient levels for pH, Phosphours (P), Potassium (K), and Magnesium (Mg). The test will also let you know if you are below optimum, optimum, or above optimum for each of these nutrients. You will also get information on Calcium and the Cationic Exchange Capacity (CEC). Soils with a high CEC will remain fertile over a longer period of time, requiring fewer fertilizer applications. Soil pH will determine the way nutrients are made available to the plants.
Why doesn't it test for Nitrogen?
Nitrogen moves quickly through the soil, and some forms dissolve easily in water and are carried away with runoff. By the time your soil sample reaches the lab and they analyze it, the level of nitrogen is no longer what it was when you took the sample so the reported number would not be accurate. However, you will receive information on nutrient needs for Nitrogen, Phosphate, and Potassium based on your test results.
Why should I test for organic matter?
Generally, soil is made up of 45% minerals (rocks), 25% water, 25% air and 5% organic matter. The organic matter is the decomposing plant and animal material inside your soil and will range anywhere from 1-6% of the soil composition. Organic matter is very important to plant nutrition. Organic matter results in less soil compaction, allowing more air to pass through and increased water storage.
- If you have a low pH, we recommend lime applications and if you have a high pH, we recommend sulfur applications.
- Problems with nutrient deficiencies are addressed with fertilizer recommendations.
When will I receive my test results?
You will receive an email with your results within 10 days after your sample is received by the lab. Without an email address, the results may take slightly longer by mail.
What do I do once I receive the results?
Your soil test report from MSU will provide you with recommendations on nutrient needs and fertilizer options based on your test results. Make sure you provide the lab with as much information about the test area as you can so they can provide more specific options. You can also go to their website: http://www.msusoiltest.com/understand-your-soil-test/ and type in your soil test details to receive a specific fertilizer ratio for N, P, and K.
Do I need to fertilize?
Not necessarily. One of the best fertilizers for your soil is compost! And once you have a container, it is free to make. You can also leave your grass clippings on your lawn after you mow to provide your grass with a ready source of fertilizer and help keep moisture on your lawn.
Give us a call at the OSU Extension office: 513-695-1853 or Soil and Water Conservation District at 513-695-1337 for more assistance.
Information for this blog post was provided by Michigan State University Extension, the Ohio State University Extension and Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District.