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Soil Testing for the Homeowner

It is generally recommended to have your soil tested to determine what is going on in the soil.  Often the soil is blamed for plants failing in the landscape without knowing anything about the soil. There is a considerable investment in lawns and landscape plant materials and you will want to know if the plants will thrive in the sandy soils you find around the home.  Although this is ideal, we often find that the homeowner has purchased plants without any consideration of the environmental need of the plant and expect those plant will survive because the garden center surely would not sell you a plant that wouldn’t grow here —– buyer beware.

Plan before you plant and more importantly plant the right plant in the right place.  Start with a soil test.  Some County Extension offices provide a pH test which is nice to know.  The soil acidity (pH) has a great deal of influence on plant performance in the landscape.  However, this is not a soil test.  Most County Extension office do not offer a soil test, especially a soil test from a certified soil testing laboratory.

A soil test will provide you with the soil acidity (pH) measure and more, including fertility levels of the principal nutrients, type and quality of lime your soil needs, nutrient needs and the amount of fertilizer your soil needs for the plant material (turfgrass, bedding plants, shrubs, trees, etc.) you are growing.

A soil test will not tell you what to grow, correct poor cultural practices or prevent poor plant performance caused by biotic and abiotic problems. (source: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/agriculture/soil-testing/)

Soil samples should be removed from several locations in your landscape/garden area at a depth of 6″; mix all samples from that landscape/garden area in a bucket and provide a pint of soil for analysis including pH. Do not include debris such as leaves, sticks or large stones in your sample.

Send your soil sample(s) to the University of Florida Soils Laboratory for pH and nutrient information at the Extension Soil Testing Laboratory, Wallace Bldg., UF, Gainesville, 32611. Cost of this test is $10.00 and you will be contacted by e-mail in about two – three weeks. Get a copy of the form “Landscape and Vegetable Garden Test Form”, and follow the instructions on page 2. You can use any kind of paper bag or ziptop bag to send your sample to be tested by a certified soil testing laboratory.  Your local UF/IFAS Extension office may have a “soil test kit” (a box, a paper bag and a submission form) if you want to pick one up.  This publication, “Soil Sampling and Testing for the Home Landscape or Vegetable Garden” should provide more helpful information.

When you receive your soil test report, if you have questions, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office. The local UF/IFAS Extension office will also receive a copy from the UF Soils Laboratory and will be able to discuss the results over the telephone.

Once you have the results from the soils testing laboratory, you will know what will be needed in your soil to help your plants look their best in the lawn and landscape.