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Soil testing is the easiest and most reliable method of assessing a soil’s nutrient status. It provides a basis for recommending the correct amount of lime and fertilizer to apply for crops and pastures. Soil testing also allows an expert to predict the probability of obtaining a yield or growth response to lime and fertilizer application.
How Often to Sample
- Row crops and hayfields: Every one or two years or when crops are rotated.
- Permanent pastures: Every 3 - 4 years.
- Vegetable gardens: Every 1 - 2 years.
- Lawns and turf: Every 3 - 5 years.
West Virginia University offers free soil analysis to residents. Your county Extension agent can assist you in your effort to collect good soil samples and also to understand the results of analysis.
When to Sample
Soil samples taken in late summer and fall are better than those taken in winter through early spring because they come closer to representing the soil’s nutrient status as it affects crops. Avoid taking samples when soil is wet or frozen because it will be difficult to handle and mix them. Do not take soil samples immediately after applying lime or fertilizer; wait several months or even longer if the weather is dry.
Send samples to a soil testing laboratory well before you need the recommendations. Allow about three weeks for the samples to be processed and the results to be sent to you. Samples sent to the laboratory between March and June may take longer to process. Avoid delays by sending samples between July and December.
Where to Sample
Adequately assess the nutrients that plant roots may encounter in soils, at least five to ten randomly selected soil borings should comprise the composite sample submitted to the laboratory. Five to eight borings will be enough for small areas such as lawns and gardens. If a field is large, subdivide it into 10-acre sections and take at least 20 borings from each 10 acres (or about two to three borings per acre). In West Virginia, it is helpful to divide the field into distinct slope/soil classes and take borings within each class to make a sample. Different slope classes generally have different parent materials and different soils.
Exclude or take separate samples from areas not characteristic of the field, lawn or garden such as wet spots, eroded areas, bare spots, back furrows, field edges. When the field has several soil types or crop conditions, take separate borings for each soil type or slope class and send a separate sample for each. No single sample submitted to the laboratory should represent an area larger than 10 acres.
How to Sample
Using an auger, shovel or spade and a clean plastic pail or container, take small uniform cores or thin slices from the soil surface to the recommended depth (see the following paragraph). Gently crush the soil and mix it thoroughly, discarding any roots or stones. Do not send wet soil, but air dry it on a clean surface in a shady spot before mailing. Not only does wet soil cost more to mail, but your results also will be delayed because the laboratory must still air dry the sample. Do not heat the sample.
Send at least 1 cup (a handful) of soil to the laboratory in a plastic bag. (The
WVU soil test mailer contains a sandwich bag to fill and place in the cloth bag.)
Remember to include your name and address and other information on the sheets provided
by the laboratory.
How Deep to Sample
Sample the soil to the depth in which your crops are or will be growing.
- Permanent pastures: Remove organic debris from the soil surface; sample the top 2 inches.
- Hay fields: Remove organic debris from the soil surface; sample the top 4 to 6 inches.
- Row crops: Sample the soil to the depth of tillage.
- No-till crops: Sample the top inch and take a second sample from the depth of 1 to 6 inches.
- Vegetable gardens and planting beds: Sample the soil to tillage depth.
- Lawns and turf: Sample the top 2 inches in established lawns and turf and the top 1 to 4 inches in new turf plantings.
How to Complete the WVU Soil Test Submission Form
Soil test submission forms are available at your local WVU Extension office or you can download a copy directly from this website. Two versions of the submission form are available — a print-only version that can be filled out with a pen or pencil OR a digital version that can be completed using a computer or tablet. If possible, it is recommended that you use the digital version of the form because the typed information is easier for our lab staff to read as they enter it into the database.
Using the digital version also allows you to save a copy to your computer or tablet so your customer information will be included for future use. The digital version has drop-down menus to assist the customer with entering their county location and planned crop code. If you are planning to grow an agronomic crop, which includes crop codes C01 through C021, you'll also need to enter the predominant soil series using that drop-down menu.
If you need help, you can learn more by reading our instructions to determine your field's soil series. Determining your predominant soil series and then entering it in the submission form allows the recommendation system to incorporate the soil's productivity potential.
If your planned crop has a crop code starting with H, W or V, then leave the soil series box blank. Soil productivity potentials have not been developed for these crops.
The WVU Soil Testing Lab provides a basic analysis, including soil pH, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and degree of phosphorus saturation. Additional analysis is available. These include organic matter determination (OM), electrical conductivity (EC) and a micronutrient package (MN). Select the optional test you need by checking the box on the form, and then, go to the WVU Soil Test Store to make the purchase.
Visit WVU Extension's store online. Once you have completed your purchase, record your transaction number on the submission form.
Each soil sample that you wish to have tested requires a separate submission form.
This is another benefit to using the digital form. Your customer information
will remain the same, so all you'll need to do is edit the sample data information
section with sample ID, crop code and size of area, and then, print the form for
each sample. Fold the form in half and wrap it around the soil sample in the plastic
bag. Use a rubber band to keep the form and the sample bag together. Always identify
the soil sample bag with the sample ID in case the form and sample become separated
How to Purchase Electrical Conductivity & Organic Matter Determination
The WVU Soil Testing Lab provides a basic analysis, including soil pH, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and degree of phosphorus saturation. Additional analysis is available. These include organic matter determination (OM), electrical conductivity (EC) and a micronutrient package (MN).
An easy way to select the soil tests you want, submit information and pay for your soil samples is by going to the WVU Extension online store.
Upon entering the store, there will be a messages that says "Welcome to the WVU Marketplace Mall." Scroll down the page to find "WVU Extension ANR" and click on it.
A prompt noting entering the Extension Service Store will appear. Click "continue."
Click "Soil Test" to arrive at the main page, where soil tests can be purchased. Individual tests and multiple tests are available for purchase. Testing options are, in order, Electrical Conductivity; Micronutrient Package; Organic Matter; Electrical Conductivity and Organic Matter; Organic Matter and Micronutrients; and, Electrical Conductivity, Organic Matter and Micronutrient Package.
To purchase a test, or tests, enter the quantity and click on the cart image to "add to cart." A screen will appear in order to enter contact information and pertinent soil sample information. When entering the "Sample ID or Location," be sure the name matches what is on the bag(s) of soil. If multiple samples are having the same test, space will be provided for each sample name/location.
When all the required fields are completed click "continue" at the bottom right corner. At this time, the screen will show "my cart." Ensure all information is correct on the screen then click "checkout" at the lower right corner.
Choose the "delivery method." Either option can be chosen. Click "continue."
Enter an email address. A receipt and confirmation will be sent to the email. Click "continue."
The payment screen will appear. Enter credit card information and the card's billing address.
After entering the card information, click "continue" at the bottom of the screen. A confirmation screen will appear. Confirm the order and a receipt will be shown. The receipt will also be sent by email.
An order number will appear at the top of the receipt/order notification. Ensure the number is added to the comment section of each additional soil sample submission form.
West Virginia residents receive the results at no additional cost; however, non-West Virginia residents will be charged $10 for the results. The WVU soiling test lab also reserves the right to charge fees to businesses and government agencies.
If you have questions about the online store, contact WVU Extension Service site administrators:
Carra Higgins, office administrator, 304-293-2561, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Basden, Extension specialist — Nutrient Management desk 304-293-0466; cell 304-282-2239; email email@example.com
Reading the Results
The soil test analysis tells you if key soil elements are present in low, medium, high or very high levels based on the land use (garden, pasture, etc.) The results also provide recommendations on what additives, if any, are needed to bring the soil nutrients to an optimum level. The WVU Soil Testing Laboratory conducts tests free for West Virginia residents and customers. For more information, contact WVU Extension specialist Tom Basden.