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FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2007


Dr. Jeana Myers, agronomist
NCDA&CS Agronomic Division
(919) 733-2655

Summertime is a great time for soil sampling

From October through March, the state soil testing lab often receives thousands of samples daily. From October through March, the state soil testing lab often receives thousands of samples daily.

RALEIGH - If you're already thinking about fall gardening, now is a good time to get started because the lazy days of summer are ideal for soil sampling. Samples may be a little difficult to collect due to the drought, but the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services laboratory in Raleigh can process them quickly at this time of year.

"In the summer, we analyze samples in only a few days," said Dr. David Hardy, who manages the NCDA&CS soil testing program. "Summer is the best time for homeowners to submit samples. By late fall or early winter, farmers' samples will be arriving by the truckload, and reports are often not available for several weeks. Anyone who can send us samples from May through August is going to get the fastest service."

If you are planning to renovate a cool-season lawn such as fescue or put in a fall vegetable garden, go ahead and send in samples now. Once you get your report, you will know exactly how much lime and fertilizer to apply.

NCDA&CS agronomist Dr. Jeana Myers speaks with homeowners every day who have created problems because they guessed the amount of lime or fertilizer to apply.

"When it comes to lime, people act on the old Southern adage that 'you can't apply too much,'" said Myers. "That saying is definitely not true. Putting out too much lime can cause a range of problems, including nutrient deficiencies. Lime raises soil pH, but when pH is too high, some soil nutrients, even plentiful ones, may become less available to plants."

So, what do you have to do to collect soil samples? First, pick up some sample boxes and information sheets at your county Cooperative Extension office or at the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division office in Raleigh. Then, decide how many samples you need to take.

You should submit a separate sample for each unique situation or location. For example, you might collect a sample from the lawn in the front yard, one from the lawn in the back yard and one from your flower or vegetable garden. You may even want to collect separate samples from specific "bad" and "good" areas for comparison.

For each unique sample, use a shovel to collect 10 to 12 slices of soil. Each slice should be about 4 inches deep for established areas such as lawns and about 6 inches for annual beds. Mix the slices together in a plastic container. Fill the sample box with this mixture. Don't skimp on the amount of soil you put in the box.

Pack boxes carefully for shipment or bring them to the lab. Be sure to provide complete information for each sample on the soil sample information form.

The NCDA&CS Agronomic Division provides soil testing free of charge to all N.C. residents -- farmers and homeowners alike. Growers use this service as a way to minimize fertilizer costs and prevent unnecessary nutrients from polluting the environment. Having the soil tested once every three years is sufficient for most home lawns and gardens.

Soil reports contain test results, lime and fertilizer recommendations, and other explanatory information. For more lawn and garden help, visit these Web sites: NCDA&CS Agronomic Division,; N.C. Cooperative Extension Service,; and N.C. State University turf specialists,; NCSU Plant Disease and Insect Clinic,; and NCSU Horticulture Department,

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NCDA&CS Public Affairs Division, Brian Long, Director
Mailing Address:1001 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1001
Physical Address: 2 West Edenton Street, Raleigh NC 27601
Phone: (919) 707-3001; FAX: (919) 733-5047