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This is an opinion/editorial column from Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.


Soil testing recommended for home gardens and yards

Now is the time when many homeowners are getting out in their yards and gardens, tilling up the soil, selecting plants and adding to their landscape. We should be well past the danger of frost, ensuring that young plants going into the ground should survive and thrive.

Putting the plants in the ground is just one part of the process. Equally as important is making sure the plants have the proper nutrients to grow and produce blooms, fruit or vegetables.

If you are not taking soil samples to find out what your garden, flowers or yard needs, then you should be. Not only are “guesstimates” often a waste of money, but they can also be harmful to the environment.

The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Agronomic Division does free soil testing to help you identify just what your plants need.

That is important for two reasons. First, you want to make sure your hard work pays off in the end, whether through productive yields or beautiful plants. Second, you want to make sure any nutrients you are adding will assist plant growth and production, and not wash out of the soil and into water sources. The bottom line is, a soil sample can help you get the most out of your fertilizer dollar and also help protect the environment.

The Agronomic Lab recently wrapped up its busy season. During that time, record numbers of soil samples come into the lab and getting results can take several weeks. Now that the workload is back to normal, home gardeners can submit samples and receive recommendations in about a week.

Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are nutrients obtained from air and water. All other essential nutrients necessary for plant health must come from soil, lime or fertilizers. These include the macronutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulfur as well as the micronutrients boron, chlorine, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum and zinc.

Whew, what a list! You can probably see how a soil test would be helpful. A soil test report can help you sort all that out and provides recommendations on what nutrients you need to add to maximize results.

To make the process as easy and efficient as possible, you can pick up soil sample boxes and sampling instructions at your county Cooperative Extension office or the Agronomic Division office in Raleigh.

Remember, the quality of your test results and the advice you receive depends largely on the quality of your sample. Collect soil from several locations throughout the planting area, mix it together, and use this mixture to fill the sample box. Also, provide all relevant information requested on the soil sample information form. For example, it is important for staff to know what kind of plants you need nutrient recommendations for.

Once you have collected the soil sample and filled out the paperwork, then you can box up the materials and send them via UPS, FedEx or DHL to 4300 Reedy Creek Road, Raleigh, NC 27607-6465, or via the U.S. Postal Service to 1040 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1040.

There are a number of helpful resources available online at if you have more questions about taking or submitting a soil sample.

We must all do our part to protect the environment. If you have never taken a soil sample for your yard or garden, I hope you will consider doing so this year.


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) 733-4216; FAX: (919) 733-5047

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Steve Troxler, Commissioner of Agriculture

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