A soil test is an inexpensive and valuable investment when planting for pollinators and wildlife. Basic soil tests will tell you the pH of your soil and the availability of potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. This is important information to know because it can help you determine what, if any, amendments you need to add to your soil to help your plants grow to their fullest potential. More extensive soil tests are also available, but the basic soil test will be adequate for most situations.
Soil samples can be taken any time of the year, but spring and fall are the most common times. Fall testing is often recommended, especially for larger areas or agricultural fields, because it allows time for amendments, such as lime, to be added before spring planting. On the other hand, spring testing tells you what conditions your plants will be facing as they begin growing for the year. No matter what time of year you choose to have your soil tested, be sure to do any future soil tests at the same time of year. Studies have shown that pH and nutrient availability varies throughout the year. Therefore, if you do a soil test this spring and two years from now do a soil test in the fall, then your results won’t be comparable because of natural, seasonal variations in the soil.
When taking your soil sample for testing, it is important to follow the proper guidelines for collecting the sample. Typically, samples should represent no more than 2-5 acres that are relatively uniform. In a home setting, front yards and backyards should be tested as two different samples and areas immediately next to roads or buildings should be avoided or tested separately. For wildlife food plots, don’t mix samples from areas that have experienced different management practices in the past such as fencerows and crop fields. The depth of the soil sample will vary depending on the previous land use. The University of Kentucky Extension Service provides a publication outlining how to collect a good soil sample.
You can purchase kits at most garden centers that will allow you to analyze your own soil; however, there are also professional labs that will analyze your soil. The professional labs will typically send you a report containing your results and recommendations for how to improve your soil. In Kentucky, samples can be submitted through your county extension office to be analyzed for approximately $10 per sample. Extension offices in other states may have similar services available. If you want more information about this service, contact your local extension office. A simple internet search can yield other agencies and companies offering soil testing.
This article was part of Shannon’s original Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blog which evolved into the blog for Backyard Ecology.
Backyard Ecology: Exploring Nature in Your Backyard
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, beekeeper, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at www.backyardecology.net.