Home & Garden

Consider testing your soil — it’s easy

Dig In video series: If your garden or yard isn't thriving, a soil test could help explain why

Debbie Courson Smith, an Advanced Master Gardener with the University of Idaho Extension, demonstrates how to get soil samples in this 17th installment of the Statesman's Dig In gardening video series. (Video by Katy Moeller)
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Debbie Courson Smith, an Advanced Master Gardener with the University of Idaho Extension, demonstrates how to get soil samples in this 17th installment of the Statesman's Dig In gardening video series. (Video by Katy Moeller)

Not satisfied with how your garden is growing? Might be time to check under the hood.

Water is one of the biggest reasons why gardens and yards aren’t thriving - too much or too little - but soil can also be a big factor, experts say.

Many gardeners have soil tests done when something has gone wrong, and they don’t know why, said Debbie Courson Smith, an Advanced Master Gardener with the University of Idaho Extension.

Basic soil tests will provide a measure of the acidity/alkalinity and nutrient content. The results can help you decide a number of things, including the type and amount of fertilizer you should be using and whether more organic matter needs to be applied.

“You can make adjustments based on that information, rather than guessing,” Debbie said.

For example, you might think you need to fertilize more, when actually you’re over-fertilizing.

A professional analysis can be done through the University of Idaho Extension or a private lab, such as Western Laboratories Inc. in Parma. The cost is about $50.

Collecting samples isn’t too time-consuming (about an hour), Debbie said, though it is recommended that you gather soil from at least 5 to 10 different spots, Soaking the area a couple days before you take the samples can help.

You can use a shovel, or buy a soil coring tool (can pick up for $30 to $40), just be sure you’re not using anything that’s rusty. It’s important to dig down at least 10 inches to a foot, and get a deep slice of the soil on the side of the hole that you dig.

Here’s how to do it:

▪  Clear the area where you are digging of any weeds, mulch and other debris.

▪  Collect samples with soil probe (coring tool), shovel and/or trowel.

▪  Place samples in a clean plastic tub and thoroughly mix.

▪  Once mixed, use a measuring cup to transfer 2 cups of soil to the sample bag.

▪  Mail off to lab.

The University of Idaho Extension has a detailed publication on how to use soil test results for garden fertilization.

Once your results are in, Professor Susan Bell is also available to answer questions.

Pick up at soil test kit at the UI Extension Office, 5880 N. Glenwood in Garden City. Questions? Call 287-5900.

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