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Tips for soil sampling
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If you were one of the people who called the extension office last week, then you probably know that I was away.

I was in Athens attending a week long training session for county agents.

While I was there, I got to visit the soil testing laboratory where all the county extension offices send their soil samples.

I got the chance to speak with the lab workers who handle the samples, and they gave me many good tips on how to send better samples.

Good soil sampling techniques will help ensure accurate results.

Why is taking a soil sample important?

Because without it you are just guessing on fertilizer rates and amounts. You could be throwing money away on fertilizer your lawn or garden doesn't really need. On the other hand, you could be under fertilizing and starving your plants of vital nutrients.

Spring is a good time to take soil samples. This gives you time to receive the sample results and apply any needed fertilizer and lime.

The first step in soil sampling is to map out and divide your garden areas into different regions. Different samples should be taken according to the plants grown in different areas.

Soil from a lawn should be in a different sample from soil taken from a vegetable garden.

Each soil sample can receive recommendations for up to four crops, which can be useful especially in beds with several different plants. Mapping out your garden and properly organizing your samples will save you from a headache at the extension office.

One soil sample bag can cover an area of up to 15 acres.

The best approach when collecting soil is to sample from random spots. Use a zig-zag pattern to keep a random pattern, and collect eight to 10 samples from each location. Sampling depths for gardens, trees and wildlife plots should be at 6 inches and 4 inches for lawns. Use a garden trowel to dig down to proper depth and remove thin slices from the soil.

After collecting several samples from one location, dump them all into a plastic bucket and mix together. Remove all leaves, roots and organic matter from the soil.

After the soil is mixed, take time to dry the soil overnight on a few paper towels.

This will help to keep the sample bag from becoming too damp. After it is dry, take about a pint of the soil to the extension office.

If you already have sample bags, fill them with soil up to the fill line. It is important to send enough soil with your sample. Sometimes the testing lab will have to run the sample a second time, so adequate soil is critical.

The standard turn-around time on a sample is seven to 10 days. The soil lab will mail or e-mail you a copy of your report with fertilizer and lime recommendations specific to your crop.

The current cost for sending a soil sample through the county extension office is $8.

Clark MacAllister is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706)265-2442.