Remember to get your soil tested

By Christina Curell

MSU Extension

Spring is coming and for many gardeners they are anxious to get their hands dirty. Before you head off to the store to buy that back of 12-12-12 for your tomato garden or your lawn, remember to get your soil tested. Over-application of fertilizers harms the environment, especially surface and ground water. Applying excess fertilizer damages or kills plants. Under-application does not correct soil deficiencies or help promote healthy plants. Both over or under applying wastes your time and money and gives bad results.

So how is a gardener to know how much or what kind of fertilizer to apply? When getting a soil test, gardeners receive information on what’s in their soil and a custom recommendation about how to correct any deficiencies.

There are a number of soil tests available. Home vegetable gardens and lawns are two that are most often requested. There also are tests for:

  • Perennial and annual flower gardens
  • Evergreens
  • Deciduous trees
  • Shrubs (Three shrub tests: one for deciduous shrubs which lose their leaves each fall; another for narrow leaf evergreens such as yew and juniper; and yet another for broadleaf evergreens like rhododendrons.)

Soil testing is available all year, with soil tested performed by the Michigan State University Soil and Plant Nutrient Laboratory in East Lansing. Your custom recommendation will give you information on the nutrients needed, soil pH and soil type. Soil sampling kits can be purchased at the MSU Extension Office, 915 Michigan Ave. in Baldwin. The cost is $20 per sample.

If you would like to see a video on how to take soil for a soil test, go to and search for soil testing. This presentation was created by Gary Heilig, MSU Extension Ingham County Horticulture Educator. For more information on soil testing, contact Christina Curell at or (231) 745-2732.