Soil and Water Tests
If you have questions about your lawn, garden, trees, etc. we always suggest starting with a soil test.
It is not necessary to come by and pick up the bags first. You may bring your dry sample into our office in plastic bags, cups, or any kind of container. We will transfer it over to a UGA soil bag. Bring in 2 cups of dry soil.
The cost per sample is $10.00 (cash or check) and the results are either mailed or emailed. We are open Monday through Friday, 8:00am to 5:00pm and do not close for lunch.
Soil Testing for Home Lawns, Gardens and Wildlife Food Plots (C 896)
Leticia S. Sonon and David E. Kissel
Agricultural and Environmental Services Laboratories
To view this publication as a brochure, click the "Download PDF" button.
Developing and maintaining productive soils begin with soil testing. Soils tests provide information on the soil’s actual nutrient status. Test results are used to determine the amount and kind of nutrients that should be added for the best growth of lawn, garden, and other types of plants.
Recommendations about when and how to apply nutrients are only as good as the soil sample submitted for analysis. To obtain a representative soil sample, the following steps are useful: identify sampling locations (zones), determine the sampling depths, use the right sampling tools, sample at the right time, and handle the samples accordingly.
1. Sampling Locations
Figure 1. Area divided according to vegetation and soil characteristics. Yellow dots indicate sampling points.
Map out the area where the plants are to be grown or are presently growing. This will help in record keeping and ensure that the soil is taken from throughout the entire area. Divide the area such that each soil sample represents one plant type or condition. An area that has been divided according to obvious differences in plant types, plant performance, soil types, and drainage is shown in Figure 1.
- Use a zigzag approach when taking samples. Collect 8-10 soil samples from each location (zone) as shown in Figure 1.
- For trees and shrubs, take soil samples from six to eight spots around the dripline of the plants.
2. Sampling Depth
The depth of sampling depends on the type of plants being grown.
- For lawns, sample to a depth of 4 inches.
- For gardens, ornamentals, mixed fruit trees, and wildlife plots, sample to a depth of 6 inches.
3. Sampling Time
Soil sampling should be done well in advance of planting or spring green-up. This allows adequate time for sample analysis, data interpretation, and fertilizer and lime application.
4. Sampling Tools
Use clean sampling tools and containers to avoid contaminating the soil sample. Never use tools or containers that have been used for fertilizer or lime. Collect samples with tools like trowels, shovels, spades, hand probes or hand augers.
5. Sampling Procedures
Clear the ground surface of grass thatch or mulch (Figure 2). Using a trowel, push the tool to the desired depth into the soil. Push the handle forward, with the spade still in the soil to make a wide opening. Then, as shown in Figure 3, cut a thin slice from the side of the opening that is of uniform thickness, approximately 1/4-inch thick and 2 inches in width, extending from the top of the ground to the depth of the cut. Collect from several locations. Combine and mix them in a plastic bucket to avoid metal contamination. Take about a pint of the mixed soil and place it the UGA soil sample bag. Be sure to identify the sample clearly on the bag and the submission form before mailing.
Figure 2. Remove grass thatch or mulch before sampling.
Figure 3. Soil sampling with a trowel.
Samples should be air dried overnight. Dry samples on a flat surface lined with clean white paper. Take care to avoid contamination. After drying, transfer the sample to the soil sample bag and bring it to your local extension office. Your extension office will send samples to:
The Soil, Plant and Water Lab
University of Georgia
2400 College Station Road
Athens, GA 30602-9105
Q: When and how often should soils be tested?
A: Soils can be tested any time during the year. However, allow enough time for the analysis and for fertilizer and lime application. Lime reacts slowly and, if possible, it should be mixed with the soil two to three months before planting. Generally, fall is the most desirable time to sample because landscapes and gardens are usually dry and easily accessible.
Once medium or high fertility levels are established, lawn and ornamental areas need to be sampled every two to three years.
Vegetable gardens should be sampled every 1 to 2 years.
Q: How soon will I get my results back (turn-around-time)?
A: The analysis takes two to three working days from the time the lab receives the samples. In general, it takes 7 to 10 days from the time we receive the samples to the time you get your test reports back.
Q: Who do I contact regarding my soil test results and recommendations if I don’t understand the numbers?
A: The Soil Test Report provides an interpretation of all soil tests done by the Soil Testing Lab and is accompanied by appropriate nutrient and lime recommendations. If you need further information about your test results, contact your local University of Georgia Cooperative Extension office at 1-800-ASK-UGA1.
This brochure was modified and adapted in part from the materials prepared by Dr. Owen Plank titled “Soil Testing for Home Lawns and Gardens.”
Status and Revision History
Published on Apr 27, 2006
Re-published on Mar 25, 2009
Reviewed on Mar 30, 2012
Reviewed on Oct 6, 2015
Public and municipal water supplies are routinely tested and must meet standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Therefore, these sources usually do not need to be tested unless inhouse contamination is suspected. However, only YOU are responsible for the safety of your well water.
When you pour yourself a glass of water to drink, it may appear clean, taste good, and you may expect it to be safe. However, many sources of water we assume are safe may contain dissolved minerals, organic compounds or even live organisms at harmful concentrations. Contaminated water used for drinking and cooking may affect your health. Also, high concentrations of certain minerals in your water can result in quality issues such as unpleasant taste and odors or staining of bathroom fixtures and/or laundry.
For more information to help you decide whether or not you may want to have your water tested, and what it should be tested for, read this Water Quality brochure or contact our office.
New Private Well Chemical Test
Upon the recommendation by the Georgia Department of Public Health (GADPH), the UGA Agricultural and Environmental Services Laboratories (AESL) has added a new test package called the “Private Well Chemical Test” (W33C). This test package (W33C) includes W2 - expanded water test, W32 - total nitrate + nitrite, and W42(2 elements)- lead + arsenic. The cost of W33C test package is $122 per sample. To complete all analyses, the laboratory requires one (1) quart or 32 oz. sample volume.
According to the GADPH, the new W33C test package will provide important information about the quality of well water and will guide private well owners to make appropriate decision should remediation is determined to be necessary. The GADPH is conducting public education programs to disseminate this new test package and is advising interested well owners to submit water samples through their local UGA Extension office.
The AESL has developed a new sample submission form specific for W33C along with sample collection and submission protocol. Please click on the link below:
The cost for the basic test is $22.00. Please call our office for more information about what is included in the basic test, and your options for more extensive testing.
Water samples should be collected from the kitchen faucet or from the faucet used most often for drinking.
Samples will be sent to a laboratory at UGA and results will be available in 7-10 business days.
W33B - Home Loan Closing Water test: (Bacteria, Lead, Nitrite, and Nitrate) $95.00 ( $85.00 test & $10.00 overnight shipping label) Note: Special sampling instructions , please contact our office for more information. 770-887-2418
E. Coli Bacteria Water test $46.00 ( pick up test kit from Forsyth County Extension Office)
How To Test Your Water
Household Water Quality
The quality of your water supply can have both an immediate and a prolonged effect on the health of your household. This publication series contains basic information about home water quality and treatment. Click for more information.
Have Questions? Need Help?
The Forsyth County Extension Office is here to serve you.