Log in links for this page

Determining your Soil’s Nutrient Needs

A soil test is a valuable tool in assessing the nutrient needs and nutritional balance of your lawn.

A soil test is a valuable tool in assessing the nutrient needs and nutritional balance of your lawn. By determining the soil nutrient levels, and pH, soil tests allow you to determine how much fertilizer and lime to put down. The University of Massachusetts Soil Testing Lab provides the following information.

Why Test?

  • to save money and conserve energy by applying only the amount of fertilizer needed.
  • to protect the environment from contamination by runoff and leaching of excess fertilizers.
  • to identify soils contaminated with lead or other heavy metals.
  • to improve the soil’s nutritional balance.
  • to aid in the diagnosis of plant culture problems.

When to sample
Sampling can be done at any time; but if pH adjustments are necessary, test as early as possible prior to planting. Avoid sampling soils that have very recently been fertilized.

How to sample

  1. Soils that are distinctly different as judged by appearance, crop growth or past treatment should be sampled separately.
  2. Each sample submitted for testing should be a composite or mixture of 12-20 separate scattered samplings taken over a well-defined area.
  3. Look your field or property over. Define a sample area based on uniformity of texture, slope, drainage, color, and past pest and fertility management.
  4. Avoid sampling very wet soils. In soils where fertilizer has been placed in bands (rows), do not sample directly in a band. It is best not to obtain samples very near the edge of the field or plot.
  5. Using a clean spade, auger, or sampling tube obtain soil from the surface through the primary rooting zone of the crop. Rooting depth will vary with crop type. For most plants the top 6-8 inches is appropriate. For established grasses sample the top 3-4 inches.
  6. Place each of the 6-12 randomly spaced samplings in a clean container (pail or bag) and mix thoroughly. Spread the mixture out on a clean paper to air-dry (do not place soil in an oven).
  7. Mix the soil again. Obtain a one cup measure of the soil mixture and place it in a zip-lock type bag.
  8. Label the outside of the bag clearly with your name, address, and a sample ID.

University of Massachusetts Soil Test Price List (2002)

  1. Soil pH Test: Provides a simple soil pH test and an estimate of how much lime , sulfur, or other additive is needed to correct soil pH. $3.00
  2. Standard Soil Test: Provides pH, Buffer pH, Extractable Nutrients, Extractable Heavy Metals (eg. Lead), Cation Exchange Capacity, and Percent Base Saturation . Recommendations for nutrient and pH adjustment are included with results. $8.00
  3. Standard Soil Test with Organic Matter: Same as Standard Soil Test plus a determination and interpretation of the Percent Organic Matter in the soil sample. $12.00
  4. Soil Texture Test (only) Provides a determination of the USDA Textural Classification by combined Hydrometer Analysis of silts and clays and Dry Sieving of sands. Results presented in tabular format. This test does not include the Standard Soil Test. $35.00
  5. Soluble Salts Test: Provides a measure of Electrical Conductivity of a 1:2 (soil:water) extract. $3.00

For a complete listing of Testing Services for Soils, as well as those for Plant Tissue, Composts, and Fertilizers, call the lab at (413) 545-2311.

Help Us Improve Mass.gov  with your feedback

Please do not include personal or contact information.