close-up photo of soil after tilling

Knowing the pH and nutrient content of your soil is important to successful growing.

How To Take A Soil Sample

1. When should soil be sampled?

Soil samples can be taken at any time during the year; however, avoid extremely wet soil conditions unless absolutely necessary.

2. How often should I have my soil tested?
For most crops, every 2 to 3 years. Soil under intensive cultivation may require annual testing. Sampling from any given area should be done at about the same time as in previous years.

3. What tool shall I use for sampling?
A soil probe or auger is best; if not available, use a garden spade or shovel.
For cultivated crops and gardens, samples are taken to the tillage depth (6-10")
For no till or minimum till, take one sample at 0 - 1" and another at a 1 - 6" depth.

4. What is the proper sampling depth?
For cultivated crops and gardens
, sample at 0 - 1" and another at 1 - 6" depth.
For lawns and pastures
, a sample from the upper 6" is satisfactory; remove plant residue.
For tree and fruit crops, 2 samples should be submitted, one taken at 0 - 8" depth, the other at 8 - 16" (subsoil layer).

5. How do I go about collecting the sample?
With a shovel, dig a hole to the sampling depth. Cut a ½" slice from the face of the hole and trim the sides so you have a vertical slice of soil.

6. How many sub-samples should I collect from each area?
Repeat the sampling process in about 10 - 15 locations throughout the garden or field. Mix the sub-samples in a plastic bucket to obtain a representative composite sample. Avoid sampling in unusual areas if the objective is to estimate average fertility levels over the entire area.

7. What if I have an area of poor crop growth?

If you have a trouble spot, a separate sample taken from this area may be necessary.

8. Should the sample be dry?
Do not bring in wet samples. If it is necessary to sample wet soil, spread the sample on a sheet of newspaper and allow it to dry at room temperature.

9. How much soil is needed for each composite sample?
About two cups are required.

10. Where do I send samples?

Samples should be delivered to the Dairy One Co-Op Inc, located at 730 Warren Rd., Ithaca, NY 14850.  For help or more info call Dairy One Laboratory (607) 375-9962 or (800) 344-2697 (ask for soil lab customer service).

Download and print the appropriate FORM from the Dairy One website to include with your soil test samples. (NOTE: when you visit the above link, you will see a list of different forms. For testing home garden soils, download and print Submittal Form H for Lawn, Garden and Landscapes and Form H2 if you are submitting multiple samples.) For assistance on downloading and filling out forms, contact the GrowLine.

11. What information needs to accompany the samples?

For cultivated crops:

Soil name and map symbol from soil survey (available at the Cooperative Extension Education Center)
Tillage depth
Past crops
Future crops to be grown
Cover crops
Manure rates, if applied

For gardens, lawns, trees:

Site characteristics
Plants to be grown
Age of plants
Fertilizer/pesticides used
Manure rates applied

12. What will they test for?

This test provides recommendations for establishment and maintenance of home lawns and gardens, commercial turf, commercial vegetables, commercial fruit, and field crops (pasture, hay, annual crops). Measures pH (in water), phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium and micro nutrients including organic matter. 

13. How long will it take to get test results? 

Expect at least one week for test results to be returned.

14. What if I have questions about the results?

Call your county's Cooperative Extension office.

15. How much does the test cost?

Standard soil nutrient test (including pH) $13/sample. Add-on testing is available for an additional fee.

Contact

Claudia Hitt
Horticulture Program Educator
cwh7@cornell.edu
607-391-2660 x409

Last updated March 25, 2022