Digging Deeper: Unearth the Secrets of At-Home Soil Testing for Gardening Success!

Digging Deeper: Unearth the Secrets of At-Home Soil Testing for Gardening Success!

by Emma Woller, Michigan GROWN, Michigan GREAT Ambassador

May in Michigan means breaking soil and planting gardens! Michigan State University Extension has launched its new Home Lawn and Garden Soil Testing Mailer just in time for the gardening season this summer. All materials and instructions are included in this kit that allows for home lawn or garden soil sampling. 

Why soil sample you may ask? Soil sampling helps ensure plants have the correct pH level and nutrients in the soil to be healthy and highly productive. Soil changes over time which will affect the plants, but a soil sample can tell you the deficiencies and imbalances the soil may possess. This mailer contains everything you need to send a soil sample from your home lawn or garden and you’ll receive an electronic response with your results and fertilizer recommendations from Michigan State University that will benefit your soil and protect the environment. 

There are two different tests MSU Extension has to offer. Both the Home Lawn and Garden Soil Test Mailer and the Commercial Soil Sample Bags. The Home Lawn and Garden Soil Test Mailer is $26 and is appropriate for home samples such as lawns, trees, shrubs, flowers, vegetables, and fruits. There is a form included to fill out identifying the area the sample is being taken from, along with a bag for the soil, and pre-paid postage envelope to send in the sample. 

Commercial soil sample bags are $18 plus shipping costs and are appropriate for wildlife food plots, farm, landscape, nursery, and athletic fields. These sample bags can only be purchased at MSU Extension in-person locations where only the bag is provided. Upon shipping, it is the owner’s responsibility to fill out the form about the soil and the results will be given at farm-scale. 

When soil sampling it is important to collect a wide range of the area within the sample. It is recommended to sample 4-6 inches deep in most home and garden areas. Roots and other organic materials should not be part of the soil sample. One cup needs to make up the Home Lawn and Garden Test Mailer so several areas of the sample location must make up the one cup. Mix the samples together to make a combined sample and place them in the bag to be shipped. The whole bag needs to be filled for the Commercial Soil Sample bags. 

Once the soil sample is shipped, MSU Extension will send the results of the sample via email within 2 weeks. Along with the results, there will be a custom fertilization program recommended to meet the needs of your plants. The soil test results will list the nutrient levels for phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg). The pH level and cation exchange capacity (CEC) will be listed along with the soil organic matter (OM) level. From this the personalized recommendations for fertilizer and if needed, pH modifications would be listed with specific amounts aimed toward the area sampled. A helpline is in place for any further explanation of the results or questions during the soil sampling process.  

MSU Extension sees the importance of the convenience of at-home soil sampling and the significance of healthy soil for the growth of plants. Without the correct soil or an imbalance, the plants may not be able to grow and produce to their full potential. Be sure to take advantage of this soil sample mailer and for more details or to purchase, visit the MSU Bookstore or in person at MSU Extension offices throughout the state. 

Emma Woller is a 2023 Michigan Grown Michigan Great Ambassador. She is a Senior at Michigan State University majoring in Crop and Soil Science with a minor in Agriculture Business. Emma grew up on her family farm in Montague MI raising livestock and assisting with the production of various crops.