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Spring is ideal time for homeowners to submit soil samples

RALEIGH — The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service urges home gardeners and landscapers to prepare now to submit soil samples over the next few months to optimize growing conditions. Beginning in April and until the last of November, there is no charge for soil testing, and sample results are usually ready within about a week of submitting samples.

Testing for soil pH is extremely important to determine the lime needs for flower beds, vegetable gardens and lawns, said Jagathi Kamalakanthan, agronomist with the department’s Soil Testing Lab. If soils are not limed properly, excessive soil acidity can damage roots. Also, an incorrect soil pH can affect nutrient availability.

“Lime begins to work as soon as it is applied, but it is best to apply it well in advance of planting so that there is adequate time for the lime to neutralize the soil acidity.” Kamalakanthan said.

In addition to lime needs, phosphorus and potassium levels in the soil are also important for proper plant growth. Given the cost of fertilizer today, there is no need to waste money if nutrient levels are adequate. Also, avoiding unnecessary fertilizer applications helps to protect the environment.

For tilled areas such as vegetable gardens, collect soil from the surface to about 6 to 8 inches deep, Kamalakanthan said. In established beds or lawns, collect soil from the surface to a depth of 4 inches. She suggests using a garden trowel to get a “slice” of soil if you do not have a soil probe.

It is also important to make sure that a sample adequately represents a given area. To do this, collect soil from 10 to 12 places randomly throughout the area, mixing them well in a plastic bucket. Once mixed, fill the NCDA&CS soil box to the red line indicated on the box. Collect separate samples for different areas- vegetable garden, lawn, flower bed, etc. A guide to collection of a soil sample is available on our website. www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/pdffiles/samhome.pdf.

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