February has brought into the Extension Office an increase in calls and visits with questions on how to collect soil samples and to get collection bags. With the warmer temperatures recently, and spring on the horizon, people are starting to think about fertilizing pastures and getting their gardens ready for planting.
The best thing a person can do prior to purchasing seeds, fertilizers, etc. is to take a soil sample. This is an easy process and can be used to estimate the kinds and amounts of soil nutrients available to plants. A soil test can also be used as an aid in determining fertilizer needs. Properly conducted soil sampling and testing can be cost-effective indicators of the types and amounts of fertilizer and lime needed to improve crop yield. The effects of adding a fertilizer often depend on the level of nutrients already present in the soil. If a soil is very low in a particular nutrient, yield will probably be increased if that nutrient is added. By comparison, if the soil has high initial nutrient levels, fertilization will result in little, if any, increase in yield.
There are three simple steps involved in collecting a soil sample:
1) Obtain a sample collection bag and submittal form. Bags are free and available at any County Extension Office.
2) Collect your sample. To get a composited sample that represents the entire area roughly 6-10 cores or slices of soil should be taken at random points to a depth of 6 inches. This can be done using a spade, trowel or soil probe. The soil collected from each of the 10 collection sites in a sample site is then mixed together in a bucket and used to fill the collection bag.
3) Complete the submittal form and mail to the Soil, Water and Forage Testing Laboratory in College Station. Turnaround time for results is roughly ten days to two weeks.
Once you have your results you will know what nutrients your soil is lacking in or in excess of. Your pH and salinity levels will also be reported, which will aid in selection of the appropriate plants and fertilizers for your sample area. When you receive your analysis report you can also contact your local County Extension Agent, Chelsea Dorward at 254-435-2331, for help interpreting the information.