close-up photo of soil after tilling

Knowing the pH and nutrient content of your soil is important to successful growing.

How to Take a Soil Sample

1. What type of soil testing is available from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County? We offer two types of soil tests: pH and complete nutrient analysis. The pH test will determine if lime or sulfur is needed to optimize soil nutrient availability. The complete nutrient analysis will provide information on pH, plant-available nutrients, and lead, and provide a fertilizer plan for up to three “crops” of your choice (including lawns, gardens, trees, fruits, vegetables, etc.)The level of soil organic matter can also be determined as part of the complete nutrient analysis, for an additional fee.

2. When should soil be sampled?
Soil samples can be taken and submitted at any time of the year.

3. How often should I have my soil tested?
For most crops, every 2 to 3 years. Soil under intensive cultivation may require annual testing. Sampling from any given area should be done at about the same time as in previous years.

4. What tools shall I use for sampling?
A soil probe or auger is best; if not available, use a garden spade or shovel. Samples should be collected in a plastic bucket (avoid metal) and are best submitted to us in a plastic bag or container.

5. What is the proper sampling depth and how much soil is needed? Take several small samples at a depth of one to six inches from the area in question, and mix them together to make a composite sample. Two cups of soil are needed for a sample.

6. How do I go about collecting the sample?
With a shovel, dig a hole to the sampling depth. Cut a ½" slice from the face of the hole and trim the sides so you have a vertical slice of soil.

7. How many samples should I make?
Soil sampling can be used to pinpoint problems or collect general information, depending on the information desired and how you take the samples. In an established landscape, it is probably desirable to make different samples for each type of area, i.e, lawn, vegetable garden, perennials, etc. since the soils in these areas may have been amended and treated differently over time. In the area around a newly-built home or other building, where these garden areas are not yet defined, one sample may suffice. If soil types vary in different parts of your landscape, separate samples may point out important differences. Problem areas or two areas for comparison should be treated as separate samples.

8. Should the sample be dry?
Do not submit wet samples! If it is necessary to sample wet soil, spread the sample on a sheet of newspaper and allow it to dry at room temperature.

9. Where do I bring samples?
Both pH and complete nutrient analysis samples may be mailed to us at: Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County, 61 State Street, Troy, NY 12180.You may also drop off samples by visiting us at the above address between 8:30 AM and 4:00 PM weekdays.

10. What information needs to accompany the samples? See our webpage entitled “Soil Testing Services”

11. How long will it take to get test results?

Results for pH tests are conducted at the offices of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County and are generally returned to you within a week, sometimes sooner. Samples for complete nutrient analysis are sent to our partners at the University of Massachusetts and results may take several weeks to produce (more time in spring when demand is high, less time during the rest of the year). All results are returned via email.

12. What if I have questions about the results?
Call us at (518) 272-4210 or email dhc3@cornell.edu

13. How much does each type of test cost?

The fee for a pH test is $2.00 per sample.The fee for the complete nutrient analysis is $30.00 per sample.If you would like the lab to determine the organic matter level, add $6.00 to the fee of $30.00 for a total of $36.00.Checks may be made payable to “Cornell Cooperative Extension” and must accompany the samples.

Last updated May 20, 2022