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Soil Testing for the Homeowner

Publication Number: IS1294
View as PDF: IS1294.pdf

Take the guesswork out of liming and fertilizing your landscape. Read on to learn how to take a good soil sample.

Getting a Representative Soil Sample

Soil is highly variable. Hydrangea flowers, like the one pictured here, illustrate how small distances translate to big soil differences. Hydrangea flower color is impacted by soil pH. Acidic soil conditions favor blue flowers, and basic soils contribute to pink flowers. This plant has both blue and pink flowers, indicating a measurable jump in soil pH just in the root zone of one plant! This highlights just how important it is to sample from several locations in the designated area. One scoop of soil does not accurately represent your entire yard.

A single hydrangea flower with pink flowers on the left side and blue flowers on the right.

  • Define the area to be tested. Divide the property into three different areas (for example, front yard, back yard, and garden). Each area requires its own soil sample box.
  • Gather the supplies you need: soil probe, spade or shovel, plastic bucket, and sample boxes.
  • Collect 15–20 different soil plugs from different places in the defined area. Remove vegetation/turf from the ground surface before collecting plugs.
  • Take soil from the top 4–6 inches.
  • Mix all plugs from a designated area together in a plastic bucket.
  • Fill a soil sample box with soil from the bucket.
  • If a box is not available, quart-sized zip-top bags are also an option.
  • In addition to the other information on the box, remember to label the sample name (for example, front yard, back yard, or garden).
  • If you have multiple areas that need sampling, repeat the entire collection process.
  • Fill out the Soil Testing Laboratory sample form. Soil sample boxes and forms are at your local county MSU Extension office. Each county in Mississippi has an Extension office, so there is one near you!
  • Take the soil sample(s) to your local Extension office or mail them directly to the MSU Soil Testing Lab at P.O. Box 9610, Mississippi State, MS 39762.
  • Include payment with your sample ($8 per sample), or pay for samples online.

Information Sheet 1294 (POD-02-20)

Revised by Keri Jones, PhD, Laboratory Coordinator, Soil Testing Lab, from a previous edition by Keith Crouse, PhD, retired Associate Extension Professor.

Copyright 2020 by Mississippi State University. All rights reserved. This publication may be copied and distributed without alteration for nonprofit educational purposes provided that credit is given to the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Produced by Agricultural Communications.

Mississippi State University is an equal opportunity institution. Discrimination in university employment, programs, or activities based on race, color, ethnicity, sex, pregnancy, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, genetic information, status as a U.S. veteran, or any other status protected by applicable law is prohibited. Questions about equal opportunity programs or compliance should be directed to the Office of Compliance and Integrity, 56 Morgan Avenue, P.O. 6044, Mississippi State, MS 39762, (662) 325-5839.

Extension Service of Mississippi State University, cooperating with U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published in furtherance of Acts of Congress, May 8 and June 30, 1914. GARY B. JACKSON, Director

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