Often, the cause of poor turf health and landscapes can be attributed to issues relating to the soil. A good place to start to correct these problems is by taking a soil sample and testing it. It is recommended that turf soil is tested every three years or more frequently in order to track fertility needs, organic matter, soluble salts, and pH levels. The most suitable seasons to do so are fall and spring; however, if your turf is exhibiting unhealthy signs, anytime is a good time to test your soil!
Soil samples for EVERY element of the landscape
It is important that you take a soil sample from each and every component of the landscape. Make sure you take samples from the front, back and side yard, and also any flowerbeds. Be careful not to take any samples of where there may be contamination – fertilized areas, pet feces & urine, and chemical spills/drainage. If your sample contains these contaminations, your test results will come back extremely skewed.
How to take your sample sample
The tool you use to take your sample is not as important as the soil sample content; however, it can make the job easier for both you and the examiner. You can use a shovel or spade, as long as you can get three to six inches deep into the soil. To contain the dirt, use a clean plastic bucket, and collect 15 to 20 samples using a stair-step pattern in the general area. The amount per collection should be about two inches wide and one inch thick at the proper depth of 3-6 inches. Remember to remove any contents besides dirt – surface thatch, leaf litter, and mulch. Once you’ve collected the proper amount of samples, place it all in the bucket and mix it up.
Where to take your soil for testing
Take a pint or so of your soil from the bucket and place it into either a sample bag or clear plastic bag. Either contact the county and ask about their soil-testing services, or call a private soil-testing lab to obtain the forms necessary. Then, send in your soil!
To find some more “scientific” information on soil sampling, check out http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/crops/00500.html