Spring is the time of year everyone begins their warm-weather lawn maintenance. For many people this means running out on a Saturday morning to their nearest big-box store and buying multiple large bags of fertilizer to bring home and spread over your yard. Unfortunately, this is both an expensive and unfavorable practice for environmental quality. Before you fertilize your lawn again get your soil tested and develop a lawn care management plan! This will likely reduce the money you spend on fertilizer and will really help protect the lake or nearby waterways from receiving excess nutrients.
By getting your soil tested, you will know what nutrients your lawn needs and what nutrients it doesn’t need. When you spread unneeded nutrients across your lawn or across impervious surfaces like driveways, walkways, and sidewalks, you are spending extra money that you don’t need to spend and those nutrients are running off to the nearest waterway and contributing to water quality problems.
The University of Arkansas cooperative extension offers a free soil-testing service for all Arkansas residents through your local county extension agent.
Learn about soil testing in this Beaver LakeSmart video and then follow the directions below to have your lawn tested before spreading any more fertilizer.
How to Gather Your Soil Sample
Sample areas around shrubs separately from turf. If you have a large lawn or garden, sample areas separately that have been managed differently or will be managed differently.
Use the following procedure in collecting your soil sample:
1. Rake aside mulch or surface litter like leaves.
2. Take soil with a soil probe or shovel from at least 12 spots in each area to obtain a representative sample. A zigzag sampling pattern is preferred. Fertilizer and lime recommendations are no better than the sample taken.
3. Take samples in gardens, lawns, and around shrubs to a depth of about 4 inches and for mature fruit trees at a depth of 12 inches.
4. Mix soil thoroughly from a sample area. Keep different areas separate. Discard rocks, gravels and roots.
5. Allow the soil sample to air dry. Spread the sample on newspapers or large paper bags for a couple of days. Do not heat the sample in an oven to speed drying.
6. Remove one pint for the laboratory sample and place in a clean container or zip top bag. Label each sample with a name that you would recognize.
7. Bring sample(s) to your local County Extension office. Office hours are 8:00am to 4:30pm Monday through Friday.
For Arkansas Taxpayers, there is no fee for us to process and run your samples. Out of State samples will be charged $10.00 per sample.
Your extension agent will help you interpret your soil test report. For additional assistance in understanding your report you can read the following University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service Publication: Understanding the Numbers on Your Soil Test Report