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Soil Testing

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N.C. Cooperative Extension, Henderson County Center offers free soil sample kits for lawn and garden.

Collecting soil samples only takes a few minutes and has many benefits. It can help you save money in your lawn, garden, and landscape can result in healthier plants by telling you which nutrients are already in your soil and which you need to add, and can protect water quality by preventing unnecessary fertilizer applications.

Soil Testing Kit with brown Soil inside of it

Soil testing is the only accurate way to know if you should add nutrients to your lawn or garden.

What Will Soil Testing Tell Me About My Soil?

One of the most important things the soil test measures is soil pH, or how acidic or basic your soil is. Soil pH levels in North Carolina range from 3.5 (very acidic) to 8.0 (basic) or higher. Most ornamental plants, vegetables, fruits, and lawns prefer to grow in soils with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5, though acid-loving plants such as azaleas, camellias, gardenias, loropetalum, and blueberries prefer a soil pH between 5.0 and 5.5.

Soil testing is the only way to know if your soil is too acidic, if you need to add lime to raise the pH, and if so, how much. Many people apply lime unnecessarily, which can raise the soil pH too high, resulting in poor plant growth. Soil test results will also tell you which nutrients you need to apply for the type of plants you are growing. If nutrients are needed, they can be supplied with either natural (organic) or synthetic fertilizers.

Soil test results will not determine if your soil contains diseases or herbicide residues or if poor drainage or soil compaction is causing plant problems. If you suspect these issues, contact your local Cooperative Extension office for advice.

When Should I Sample?

Submit samples for planting and gardening projects several weeks before planting. This will allow you plenty of time to get the results back and amend the soil before planting.

Soil samples can be submitted for testing any time of the year. Results are usually ready within a few weeks and are posted online. Winter and spring are the lab’s busiest seasons. Samples submitted during these times may take longer to process. Check current processing times.

Where Can I Find Sample Boxes?

Kits can be picked up from the front desk at Henderson County Cooperative Extension Center. 
N.C. Cooperative Extension, Henderson County Center
100 Jackson Park Rd,
Hendersonville, NC 28792
Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Monday – Friday

How Do I Submit Samples?

During the peak fee season (Dec 1 – March 31), completed samples should be mailed to the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service’s soil testing lab in Raleigh, whose address can be found on the soil sample box and submission form. Download a submission form for home lawn and garden samples.

What Does It Cost?

Samples submitted between April 1 and the end of November are analyzed free of charge. North Carolina is one of the few states to offer soil testing at no direct cost to its residents most of the year because of funding derived from a statewide commercial fertilizer. A peak season fee of $4 per sample is charged for each sample submitted between December 1 and March 31.

Have Your Soil Tested at NO CHARGE between April through November.

How Do I Collect Samples?

To have your soil tested, collect samples from different areas of your yard. You will need to randomly collect several samples from each section of your yard where you are growing something different; for example, collect several random samples from your lawn, several samples from your vegetable garden, etc.

soil sampling diagram

Collect several random samples from each area of your yard where different types of plants are growing.

Samples should be collected with a stainless steel trowel and need to be taken around 6” deep. For each sample you submit (example – lawn, garden, flower bed), aim to collect a total of about a cup and a half of soil when the random samples are mixed together. If there are areas in your yard where plants are not growing well be sure to sample them separately to find out if the problem is nutrient or pH-related.

Detailed instructions on how to collect and submit soil samples are provided in a page from NCDA&CS. For a demonstration on collecting soil samples, see this video from NC State Extension.

How Do I Get My Results?

When complete, your results will be sent to you via email (look for a message from AGRONOMIC LIMS), as well as posted online at the Agronomics Service Division.

For help reading the soil test results, refer to this guide or contact your local Extension center.

For more information regarding soil testing kits, please call the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Henderson County at 828-697-4891.

Originally posted by Charlotte Glen. and Matt Jones, and Elisabeth Purser. Modified by Lia Beddingfield. 

Helpful Links

Soil  Testing for Homeowners
How to Collect Soil Samples

Homeowner Soil Submission Form
Instructions for Submitting Soil Samples
Understanding Your Soil Report

General Soil Information

NC State Extension Soils