University of Minnesota Extension

Extension > Extension in your Community > Morrison > County Horticulture Educator > Articles > Answers Found in a Soil Test

print icon email icon share icon

Answers Found in a Soil Test

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
February 24, 2016   

Source:  Beth Berlin, Extension Educator-Horticulture
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns & Benton Counties    


Answers Found in a Soil Test
By Beth Berlin, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (2/24/16) —Understanding your soil is important for a successful garden. Soil analysis can help a gardener determine its current state as well as receive recommendations on how to amend it for best performance.

By simply sending a sample of your soil to a qualified lab you can remove the guesswork out of fertilizer recommendations. This not only makes good economic sense but also helps ensure fertile soils without excess fertilizer application. Excess fertilizer can result in undesired vegetative versus fruit production growth, and contribute to pollution in the environment.

Results of the soil test include data on soil fertility, pH, and organic matter. In addition fertilizer recommendations are provided according to the soil test data. A standard test from the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory will include organic matter, phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and pH –lime requirements. The most common fertilizer used for a fertility program is nitrogen.  Nitrogen (N) is not commonly included with the test because of its mobile and ever changing chemical forms in the soil, however recommendations are given based on plant or crops being grown as indicated on the form. The standard test will cost $17, with additional tests such as soluble salts, sulfur, nitrate, calcium, magnesium, and more ranging from $7-12.

More than one sample may need to be collected and analyzed in your yard and garden. Determine the areas that have the same soil color and texture, crop or plant history, and fertilizer and lime treatments.  For example one sample from your vegetable garden and a second for your lawn may need to be collected.

Here are some recommendations if sending a sample to the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Lab:

  1. Scrape off all surface residues from the sample site
  2. Collect multiple samples from the desired area and then blend into one sample
  3. Combined sample should be two to three cups
  4. Sampling depths are:  existing turf: 0-3”, new grass or gardens: 0-6” 
  5. Place soil into a clean, leak-proof bag or container
  6. Fill out and include the appropriate form and send payment
  7. Ship in sturdy mailing package

The University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory completes soil analysis for farm or for home and garden. Private labs can also be an option for you.  Most county Extension offices have the submission form and soil testing bags; however the information can also be found at

  • © Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved. The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.