Taking soil tests is one of the best ways to ensure a productive garden – it is also surprisingly easy, quick, and inexpensive (only $9.00). The standard soil test will measure N,P,K,Ca, Mg, S. The report you receive from Penn State will indicate all of this, and tell you what kind of fertilizer to use, when to apply it, and how much lime or sulfur to add, for whatever plants you are growing.
Soil tests can be purchased at the Cooperative Extension Office or from the Penn State website http://www.aasl.psu.edu/PROGDESC.HTM. Once you have the test kit, you can take soil samples – detailed instructions are included in the test kit packet. It only takes a few minutes to gather samples, which are spread out to air-dry, mixed and then a small sample is mailed in the bag from the kit to Penn State. In about 7-10 days you will receive your comprehensive report.
Homeowners generally need a soil test about every three years since soil fertility changes yearly due to plant growth. In general, many plants do best in slightly acid soils of pH 6.1 to 6.9. Some plants require more acidic soil – pH 4.5 to 6.0; these include azaleas and blueberries. A soil test is the only precise way to measure pH. Fall is an ideal time to test soil – lime can be added and start to work on correcting the pH overwinter. Sulfur is not usually needed in the Poconos, as the soil is often highly acidic – if it should be required for your crop, you should add it in the spring.
Among the benefits of soil testing is that not only is it inexpensive, but it saves a great deal of money on fertilizers and lime. At a time of excess run-off of chemicals into the environment, precisely measuring and applying what is needed for the plants prevents over-use and protects the environment.
You can contact our office at 724-228-6881 for information or kits.