Winter months are a time that planning your garden and landscape can take place. Part of that planning should include a soil test.

In Arkansas, routine soil testing is done free of charge provided the soil is from Arkansas and the person submitting the sample is an Arkansas resident. These samples can be collected and brought to your county Cooperative Extension Service Office to be sent off for testing. A soil test is important for several reasons: to optimize crop production; to aid in the diagnosis of plant culture problems; to improve the nutritional balance of the growing media; and to save money and conserve energy by applying only the amount of fertilizer needed.

The results will show measurement of pH and plant available nutrients (potassium and phosphorus). The proper soil pH is necessary to produce a healthy, high-quality, attractive lawn/landscape or a vigorous productive garden spot. Lime is often applied to either one in order to help raise the soil pH near neutral, which increases the availability of most plant nutrients. The first step in liming your spot is to obtain a soil test before applying any nutrients.

To obtain a good representation of your soil, sample areas around shrubs separately from turf. If you have a large lawn or garden, sample areas separately that will be managed differently. Sample each field or management unit separately. If a problem is being diagnosed, take a sample from both normal and abnormal plants for comparison.

Use the following procedure to collect sample:

1. Gently rake aside mulch or surface litter like straw, leaves and old stalks.

2. Take soil with a shovel or trowel from each area to obtain a representative sample. A zigzag sampling pattern is preferred from 12 spots throughout area. Fertilizer and lime recommendations are no better than the sample…

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