Soil Testing

Soil Testing

MSU Extension soil test self-mailer envelopeWhy Test Your Soil?

A soil test is the first step in determining what type and how much fertilizer is needed for the plants you are trying to grow.  Since plants take up nutrients from the soil, nutrients need to be replenished from the soil from time to time.  The only way to identify the particular nutrients needed is to test your soil.

Over-application of fertilizers can pollute water resources, ruin plants and waste money.


What Does the Home Lawn and Garden Soil Test Mailer Include?

The cost of the soil test kit covers the cost of the soil analysis, a custom fertilization program developed to meet the needs of your plants and safeguard the environment, and also includes delivery of your soil sample to the MSU Soil and Plant Nutrient Lab.

It includes the determination of soil pH, available phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium levels, organic matter and soil type as well as recommendations for lime (if indicated) and fertilizer.  Other soil tests are available at supplemental costs, such as zinc, manganese, etc.  For further information about supplemental soil tests, please contact the Garden Hotline at 248-858-0902.


What Is not Included in the MSU Soil Test?

The MSU soil test will not test for any toxins, contaminants, insect or disease problems.


How to Obtain a MSU Soil Test for Home Lawn & Garden Samples

• You will need to obtain a separate MSU soil test kit for each sample you want tested. 

• Each mailer includes written instructions for properly collecting a soil sample and everything needed to send the sample to Michigan State University for processing, including a postage-paid return envelope.  You will receive an email with a link to your soil test results available at the MSU Soil Test web site.

• The Home Lawn and Garden Soil Test Mailer can be used to process any type of home soil sample (lawn, vegetable garden, tree, shrub, flower and tree/small fruit) and is available through the MSU Extension Bookstore as well as the MSU Extension office in Oakland County.  The cost per soil test mailer is $25.00.  You can only use a credit card when purchasing online, but the MSU Extension office in Oakland County can accept credit card, cash or check payments. 


How to Obtain a MSU Soil Test for Commercial Samples

Farm, landscape, lawn maintenance, nursery, athletic field and other commercial operations or those who wish to test soil for wildlife plots should call the Garden Hotline at 248-858-0902 or the Soil and Plant Nutrient Laboratory at 517-355-0218 for commercial soil testing instructions.  The cost of this test is $12.00. 


hand shovelTaking a Soil Sample

1. Obtain a MSU Extension Home Lawn and Garden Soil Test Mailer.

2. Decide which one lawn or garden area you would like to test.  Use a spade or a trowel and a clean plastic pail.

3. Collect 10 random soil samples from this lawn or garden area.  Each of these samples should be about 1/2 cup.

4. To do so, remove a slice of soil (extending to the bottom of the plant roots -- 3 inches deep for lawn or 7 inches deep for all other plants).

5. Do not include roots, thatch or other plant materials in the sample.

6. Mix the 10 sub-samples together.  If the soil is wet, spread it on paper and allow to air dry overnight before filling the sample bag.  Do not use artificial heat (i.e., radiator, oven, microwave, hair dryer, etc.) to force-dry the sample.

7. Place roughly 1 cup of the well-mixed soil inside the resealable plastic bag that is included in the Soil Test Mailer and seal carefully.

8. Do not overfill the plastic bag.  Do not pour extra loose soil inside the white postage-paid envelope.


When Will I Receive the Results?

You will receive an email approximately 2 weeks after your sample is received at the MSU Soil Nutrient and Plant Lab letting you know your results are available at the MSU Soil Test web site.  If you submit your sample without an email address, it may take slightly longer for you to receive your results in the mail.

For further information or questions about testing your soil, contact the MSU Extension-Oakland Garden Hotline at 248-858-0902. 


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