Master Gardener’s tips: SOIL TESTING
As much as I like to garden, I have more or less taken my soil for granted. Not that I don’t believe in amending my garden soil every year, thanks to all the GCOPRF gardening lectures I have attended, but I never really thought about soil testing. So I was surprised to learn that soil in its natural state is usually not fertile enough for the optimum growth in plants and most soils need supplements to their existing nutrients to produce healthy lawns, trees, shrubs and flowers. So, soil testing for pH, potassium, phosphorus and other key elements helps gardeners in their soil improvement efforts.
Soil has to be tested during the warmer months when the soil temperature is above 50 degrees. If the soil is too wet to dig, it is too wet to sample. Likewise if soil is really dry, it is too dry to sample.
While there are lots of soil testing labs, the Cook County Farm Bureau offers a good testing program for homeowners. Call 708-354-3276 to order a soil test kit. The kit includes a soil sample bag(s), instructions on how to take samples, a questionnaire about your samples and a shipping box with a prepaid UPS label. It takes 2-3 weeks for you to receive your test results and recommendations. Another nice feature of this testing service is that you may also call the Master Gardener Resource Center Clinic at the CCFB for additional explanations.
Master Gardener Resource Center:
Tel. number: 708-354-3276
Hours: Mondays and Thursdays from 9a to 1p
Soil Test Prices:
One sample – $30 for non-members
Two samples – $40 for non-members
Three samples – $55 for non-members
Lead Test Prices:
One sample – $42 for non-members
Lead testing is important if you have kids or grandkids playing in your yard or if you are planting vegetables directly in the ground. Most soil in our old suburbs has lead in it, primarily from the good old days when gas was leaded and we used lead paint. Lead stays in the soil, period. There are a few plants that remove lead from the soil, but otherwise the lead is there forever. However, it only becomes airborne when the soil is disturbed by digging, etc. Unfortunately, it is absorbed by plants and by some plants more than others. It can be present in the leaves, stems, roots or fruit, depending on the plant.
Contributed by Jackie Paine