A lot of you spend the winter planning out your gardens, carefully plotting what you’ll plant in the spring, but odds are you haven’t give enough consideration to the soil you’re planting in. Unlike a blank canvas, soil is not a neutral medium for you to work with. If you have bad soil, almost no amount of effort will make your garden as lush as you may want.

Soil testing is an inexpensive, easy way to learn the good, the bad, and the ugly of your soil, so you know exactly what your garden or lawn needs to be its best, and now is the best time to get it tested. You can have your soil tested for nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, organic matter, acidity, and many different micronutrients, as well as the presence of any heavy metals.

Testing your soil will save you money by helping you choose exactly how much fertilizer your garden or lawn may need. It will also encourage proper plant nutrition by providing the appropriate fertilizer and lime recommendations. Testing also promotes environmental stewardship by preventing over-fertilization, which can lead to environmental problems such as algae blooms.

Testing generally costs around $25 with  results in 2-4 weeks. Most labs will mail you a sample kit and detailed instructions once you contact them.

The process for soil testing is fairly simple. Once you’ve determined the area you want to sample (flower garden, vegetable garden, lawn, etc), you can use a soil probe, garden trowel, or shovel to collect samples. Samples should be taken from four to six inches deep, and should avoid areas where fertilizer has recently been applied, as this can contaminate the test results. Also, if you are sending multiple areas to get tested, each area’s samples should be kept separate.

Once you’ve collected your samples, make sure each area’s sample is thoroughly mixed. If your samples are damp, they should be air dried before they are mailed in to ensure that they are inert while being mailed and waiting for testing.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has a list of labs that will perform soil tests here: http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/tabid/9074/Default.aspx