By Linda Geist
If a little is good, a lot must be better.
All too often, that’s the approach home gardeners take when plants and flowers don’t do well, says University of Missouri Extension soil scientist Manjula Nathan.
Trying to improve flower beds and vegetable gardens by adding more fertilizer and topsoil may be a waste of money. It also can be bad for the environment because excess nutrients often leach into water supplies.
A soil test through the University of Missouri’s Soil and Plant Testing Laboratory can save home gardeners money and trouble by revealing just what their soil needs, Nathan says.
A soil test provides information on soil pH, reserved acidity, nutrient levels, and organic matter content, along with fertilizer and lime recommendations based on your plants’ specific needs.
Test your soil every three years on established lawns. If you have a problem with your lawn, test annually, Nathan says. She recommends testing new lawns before they are established. This makes it easier to amend the soil. Also consider testing soil if fertilizers such as phosphate or potash have been used on a regular basis.
The MU Soil and Plant Testing Laboratory provides reliable, unbiased low-cost tests for soil, plant, water, manure, compost and greenhouse media.
You can take samples to your county MU Extension center, or you can submit directly to the lab at 23 Mumford Hall on the MU campus, by mail or in person. A basic soil test is $10 per sample if you submit directly to the lab. There is a small shipping charge if you take samples to an MU Extension center. Test results can be emailed, accessed online or mailed as hard copies.