Now is the time to start planning for next year’s garden. The first step in those plans should include getting a soil test now so that you can have your soil prepared and amended by the time spring is here.
Now is also a good time to get a soil test while they are free, before the peak-season soil testing fee starts. The soil test fee will start after the Thanksgiving holiday, continue through March, and will be $4 per sample.
A soil test is offered by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. A soil test allows you to learn about the soil pH and fertility of your soil. Boxes and forms are available at Wayne County Cooperative Extension Office (3114B Wayne Memorial Drive, Goldsboro). After you submit a soil sample, you will receive a report a few weeks later. The report will let you know important things about your soil, like pH and nutrient levels. The report will give you fertilizer and lime recommendations needed to reach optimum soil conditions.
Turnaround time on soil test results can vary from 3 to 6 weeks. If you are considering sending off a soil test, now would be a good time so you can have your results to start planning for next year’s garden.
When you collect a soil sample, there are a few things to keep in mind to get the best results. As you prepare for collecting samples, you want to consider how many separate samples should be collected. You want to collect samples based on what types of plants you are growing. On the form, you will indicate the types of plants you are growing so recommendations will be tailored for those plants. For example, you may collect separate samples for your vegetable garden, lawn, and flower beds. Another aspect to consider when deciding how many samples to collect is to look at areas that may vary in soils type or drainage. If you were going to collect a sample for your lawn, you would probably want to collect separate samples for the front and back lawn. You will want to also collect separate samples for acid-loving plants like centipede grass, blueberries, and azaleas. These plants prefer soils to be more acidic (lower soil pH) than other plants.
As you collect a sample, you want to collect several (6 to 10) “mini-samples” randomly within the area. Then mix the samples in a bucket before putting in the box that will be sent for testing. This method will provide a better representation of the entire area and lead to better results.
Once you receive your results, you will be provided with lots of information about soil pH, phosphorus, potassium, lime and fertilizer recommendations. Sometimes this information can be overwhelming or confusing. The Wayne County Cooperative Extension office can assist people with understanding their soil test results and determine if amendments are needed to the soil.
Jessica Strickland is an Agriculture Extension Agent, specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.