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Washington Youth Garden

Soil Test Tips: 7 Simple Steps

April Martin

Taking soil samples and sending them to a lab for testing is like preventative health care for your garden and will help ensure you have a productive growing season.  We contacted our D.C. Extension Agent, Sandy Farber (, for recommendations on soil testing labs.  University of Massachusetts Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory has easy to follow directions and decent prices.  We sent our samples off yesterday and should hear back next week.  Follow these simple steps to test your soil:


buckets, 1 shovel (or fancy sampling tube if you have one), plastic zip lock sandwich bags, sharpie, measuring cup, towel or rag

Step 1 Clean buckets and shovel with soap and water.  Dry.

Step 2  Take samples

Take samples from fairly dry soil before you add any fertilizer.  It is recommended to take 10 subsamples from each area to be tested.  We started with the garden beds designated for onions.  Use your shovel to take subsamples, 6-8 inches deep, from 10 random spots within the defined area.

Sample size shown above.  Place all subsamples in labeled bucket. 

Step 3 Thoroughly mix subsamples and break apart clumps

The mixed subsamples are representative of the entire area and will be treated as one sample.  Make sure to mix well!

Step 4 Repeat process for different crop areas

Step 5 Spread out soil to dry

Little to know moisture should be left in the soil when sending it to the lab.  Spread out your samples on paper or in trays in a dry area.  You can use the sun or a fan to help speed up the drying process. 

Step 6 Scoop out one cup of soil and place in a labeled zip lock bag

Step 7 Fill in your sample form and send in your samples

UMass Lab has changed their soil sample form since I filled out this one.  So yours will look different.  Don’t worry, it’s probably more efficient now.

Thanks for following our blog.  Happy sampling!