Sampling & Testing
April 2, 2016
Where and how do I send a soil sample for my garden?
A pint of dry soil is needed for each sample you want tested. Typically we recommend taking separate samples from a vegetable garden, flower/shrub garden and lawn. A pint is needed for each sample you want tested. In the garden you are testing get a core sample of soil from a variety of spots—4-10 areas in the garden depending on the size of the garden. Mix the soil together from each garden type and then take the samples in to your local county extension office. There they will fill out an information form with your contact information plus what you are growing. In roughly two weeks you will receive a computer printout with the data from your soil along with recommendations on whether or not you need to lime and fertilize.
I am writing to see if you can give me some tips on blueberry cultivation. I've had these bushes for four years and I keep losing one or two each year. I have watered and fertilized in the spring, then used Miracle Grow throughout the summer. Still, they keep dying on the tips and then I soon have a whole branch that is gone. Then the plant dies. These are within easy reach of the hose and I have installed drip irrigation. I had a soil test in January, 2011 which revealed a soil ph of 7.2. I added 10 pounds of sulfur per 1,000 square feet to acidify the soil. They are also mulched with pine needles. They have a few berries but last year the birds wiped them out.
I think you have a couple of issues. First of all, blueberries need a well drained, acidic soil. From the pictures you sent me, I think they should be planted a bit higher with mounds of soil and mulch—basically a raised row of soil. This ensures good drainage. While they like ample moisture, they can’t tolerate wet feet. pH is also critical. They need a very acidic soil around 5-5.5. 7.2 could cause them to die. The last picture showed some pretty yellow leaves with green veins—a sure sign that the pH is too high. The plants can’t absorb the nutrients in the soil if the pH is not in the proper range, which can cause the iron chlorosis you are experiencing. Get the pH in range, and mound up the plantings. Drip irrigation is great. When you lose a plant and dig it up, does it have any roots left, or have they rotted? Mulching with pine needles is great, but make sure the plants aren’t staying too wet and that you don’t have them planted too deep.
The soil is the foundation of a garden. The healthier the soil, the healthier and more resilient your plants will be. Too many of us in Arkansas are blessed with more rocks than soil, but even those who do have decent soil often lack organic matter. Building up a strong soil and amending with organic matter in the form of compost, gives plants a better start in life and makes them easier to maintain. When amending soil, it is best to blend in your amendments with the existing soil. Creating a homogenous mix will encourage rooting better than layering in different soil types. Fall is also an excellent time to test your soil to find out what the pH is and determine nutrient levels, so that you are prepared for the next growing season. The pH of the soil determines the level of acidity of the soil. It is measured in a range of 0 – 14. 7 is considered neutral, while below 7 is acid and above 7 is alkaline. Most plants like a slightly acidic soil, between 6-6.5. Blueberries and azaleas like it even more acidic, getting in the range of 5 – 5.5. Many soils in Arkansas are acidic, and we occasionally need to add lime to raise the pH. A soil test will determine whether you need to lime or not. It will also tell you how much lime to use. Lime that can be mixed into the soil will give quicker results, than lime that is laid on the soil surface. To test your soil, take slices of soil from the surface down around six inches. Get soil from 6-10 different spots in your yard or garden for each sample you are taking. Mix it together and take one pint of soil for each sample into your local county extension office. Many gardeners test their lawns, vegetable gardens and flower gardens separately, since they treat them differently. Within two to three weeks you will get a computer printout mailed to you with the results, and recommendations on what to do.
We have a raised garden which we have planted for ten years. My question is that every year my tomatoes look beautiful until they begin to put on tomatoes. Then the vines begin to turn yellow and no amount of spraying or watering seems to help. Is the soil just needing something or should we just not use this garden for a year and cover it with plastic to maybe rid it of the bacteria or whatever causes this blight. Is there anything I can put into the soil to help it?
We strongly encourage crop rotation--not planting in the same spot for three years. When you plant over and over again in the same spot, diseases build up and hit you earlier and earlier each season. While there are some pesticides for certain diseases, many of the soil borne problems are not covered. Solarize your soil now. You are getting a little late for 100% effectiveness, but try. Till the soil, thoroughly wet it and cover with clear plastic for at least 6-8 weeks. Test the soil this fall and see what the pH is and what your nutritional levels are. When you choose new plants next spring, look for disease resistance--VFN following the name. Try to divide the bed into thirds and plant one third with tomatoes next year, the next year in a different third and then the latter third in the third year. This can help.
Can you tell me how to get started getting soil samples analyzed? I need to know how to take the samples (all samples in one container or different containers with different samples of dirt from various parts of the yard). I would like to get an analysis so I can figure out how to treat my yard. I have several things going on from big round brown spots to mossy spots in my yard.
The proper way to take a soil sample is to dig up a slice or core of soil from a minimum of 6 to ten spots in the yard that you are testing, and mix them together in a bucket. Then take a pint of that blended soil in to your local county extension office. You need one pint per sample tested, and the soil should be relatively dry since they are shipped in cardboard containers. For a normal lawn one sample should suffice. Taking multiple samples from a lawn doesn’t make a lot of sense since you typically fertilize and care for a lawn with one general application. If you have a spot in your lawn that is really different from the rest—mossy or dead, you can take a separate sample from that area to compare to the general lawn to help determine the cause of the problem. You can also take separate samples from flower beds or vegetable gardens, since you would normally treat them separately. Keep in mind that many folks think about soil testing the day they want to fertilize, and it does take two to three weeks to get your report back, so give yourself some time.
Is there any way to treat soil that would help fight tomato wilt? The only information I can find in garden books is to "buy disease resistant plants" and throw away the ones affected. I bought disease resistant plants and for the second year in a row, my tomato plants are healthy and have tomatoes on them one day and are wilted and dead the next. It is very discouraging. Can I plant anything in the fall (like clover) that might aid in cleansing the soil?
Many tomato diseases are soil-borne. That means they persist in the soil for years and can attack your tomatoes quicker each season. Planting disease resistant varieties helps, but only to a point. For one thing, disease resistance doesn’t cover every disease out there. Secondly, a new strain of the disease can build up especially if you plant over and over again in the same area. Rotating tomatoes in the garden is ideal, but again, that alone may not do the trick. The best idea is to sterilize your soil using soil solarization. Till the soil as deep as you can, then saturate the soil, getting it really wet. Once you have wet the soil, cover it with clear plastic, making firm contact between soil and plastic. Leave it covered for six to eight weeks between July and September and you should start off with clean soil next year. Cover crops such as clover and vetch can help to build up your soil, but do little to control diseases. You can also take a plant sample in to your local extension agent when you have the disease, they can pinpoint exactly which disease issue you have.
I want to have soil tests run on soil samples from my daylily flower beds. How do I go about it?
To take a soil sample from your daylily beds, go to five or six different locations in the bed and get a slice of soil roughly four to six inches deep. Mix all of these together and take one pint to your local county extension office. If you have a problem spot in the garden, you can take a separate sample from that location to compare to the rest. There you will fill out a form, and they will send it to the soil testing lab, and you should have a computer printout back within two to three weeks.
I'm new to Arkansas and have bought some acreage north of Batesville. It includes bottomland and a raised meadow (the grassy knoll) which I fear is a huge gravel pile covered with a little topsoil. Don't know that, but I fear it. When I dig, I immediately hit marble sized rocks. I have mail ordered some pecan and chestnut trees. Both say plant in well drained, moist soil. I'm guessing that the grassy knoll will drain well, but I don't know if it is suitable for my nut trees. By the way, the adjoining land is covered in cedar and oak trees. What do you think?
Just looking at soil and the lay of the land, really doesn't indicate internal soil drainage. You need to dig a hole as deep as you plan to plant your trees then fill it with water until the water stands. See how long before the water drains. That should give you an indication of drainage. Planting, much less digging, and then growing can be a challenge in extremely rocky soil, but much of Arkansas is in the same boat, and we have lots of plants, so it is doable. Get a soil test, test for drainage and see if you can amend the soil in an area at least three times the width of the planting hole with compost, incorporating that with the existing soil. Give your pecan trees plenty of room to grow, since they are large trees at maturity.
Could you please let me know how to get the soil in my flower beds tested? Last year, I planted many annuals and perennials and they did not bloom well.
Dig down six inches and take a slice of soil from several areas of the flower bed. Mix them together and take a pint of soil in to your local county extension office. They will send it to the soil lab and you will have a computer printout telling you what to do in a couple of weeks.
When we moved into a new house in Bella Vista six years ago, I had the yard sodded with Bermuda. It has never done well. After maintaining it myself for two years, I contracted with a Lawn Service in an effort for improvement - and the lawn is still very poor. The grass is never truly green. The Bermuda refuses to aggressively crawl, the turf is thin, and it appears not to be deep rooted and can, in fact, be pulled quite easily. I have no idea as to the quality of the soil - I would like to have it tested but do not know where to take a soil sample for analysis. I see Bermuda in many areas which looks much better than mine - alongside the road, vacant lots etc. - and haven't a clue as to what is wrong with mine. Do you have any advice? Would appreciate your help.
I would suspect two problems. If your yard is shady, Bermuda is not going to grow. Also, if you have a typical Bella Vista yard, you have pitiful rocky soil. The combination of shade and no soil does not bode well for grass. Bermuda does the best in poor soils of any of our lawn grasses, but it also needs the most sun. At least six to eight hours a day is needed. Bermuda also responds the best to nitrogen fertilizer. It can be fertilized monthly from May through August. To have your soil tested for pH and nutritional levels take a pint of soil to your local county extension office. If shade is a factor, consider growing a ground cover or mulching, since I would much prefer shade than grass in an Arkansas summer. For a complete list of county extension office addresses visit our website at www.uaex.edu then click on "find us".
I have 8 encore azaleas in the front flower bed. Seven of them have done well over the past 5 years but one of them I have had to replace 3 times since every one has died in that location. I have read how to plant azaleas to make sure that each time I have planted them correctly. The plant in question is right over where the main water line goes into my house and was wondering if that might have any affect on the azalea. I do not see any water each time I have planted a new one. Is there anything I could do to make that one area acceptable for an azalea and if not what do you suggest I plant in that location that would go with my other 7 azaleas.
I think you first need to find out what is wrong with the site before you put any more plants in. There should be no water leaking out of your water line—or that would be a problem. If you see no water in the planting hole when you pull up the dead plant that is good, but do test the drainage. Dig a hole the depth you would plant an azalea there and fill it with water until the water stands. Then time it to see how long it takes to drain. If there is still standing water after 6 hours, azaleas would struggle. If you do determine that water is a factor, see if you can redirect water or try raising the planting level. If water is not a factor, take a soil sample from the area where the azaleas are thriving and a separate sample from where it is dying--then compare. I would not plant anything else until a little more investigating is done.
We have a large garden for vegetables as well as several flower gardens. We would like to have our soil tested to see if we should add anything prior to the springtime plantings. Is there a specific amount of soil needed to be submitted for testing? Should several samples be blended together before testing, or should separate samples from different areas be submitted?
You need a pint of soil for each area you want tested. If you basically treat the entire vegetable garden the same, then only one sample is needed in the vegetable garden, and a separate sample from the flower bed. If you have a problem area, you may want to test it separately. For each sample you are testing, take soil from several areas, trying to get a good profile-(from the top down 6 inches). Mix this together in a bucket and take a pint for each one -- labeling them in a way that you will know what they are when they come back -- not just 1, 2, 3, unless you know which is which. Take your samples to your local county extension office. They will fill out a brief information sheet and send that and your soil to the soil testing lab in Marianna. You should have a computer print out back within two weeks.
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