close-up photo of soil after tilling

Knowing the pH and nutrient content of your soil is important to successful growing.

How To Take A Soil Sample

1. When should soil be sampled?
Soil samples can be taken at any time during the year; however, avoid extremely wet soil conditions unless absolutely necessary.

2. How often should I have my soil tested?
For most crops, every 2 to 3 years. Soil under intensive cultivation may require annual testing. Sampling from any given area should be done at about the same time as in previous years.

3. What tool shall I use for sampling?
A soil probe or auger is best; if not available, use a garden spade or shovel.

4. What is the proper sampling depth?
For gardens, lawns, and shrubs, sample  at 1 - 6" depth.

5. How do I go about collecting the sample?
With a shovel, dig a hole to the sampling depth. Cut a ½" slice from the face of the hole and trim the sides so you have a vertical slice of soil.

6. How many sub-samples should I collect from each area?
Repeat the sampling process in about 10 - 15 locations throughout the garden. Mix the sub-samples in a plastic bucket to obtain a representative composite sample. Avoid sampling in unusual areas if the objective is to estimate average fertility levels over the entire area.

7. What if I have an area of poor crop growth?

If you have a trouble spot, a separate sample taken from this area may be necessary.

8. Should the sample be dry?
Do not bring in wet samples. If it is necessary to sample wet soil, spread the sample on a sheet of newspaper and allow it to dry at room temperature.

9. How much soil is needed for each composite sample?
About two cups are required.

10. What do I do with the samples?
Testing for pH alone is done on-site at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ontario County, Monday through Friday,  8:00 am to 3:30 pm. 

Nutrient and specialized tests you send to Dairy One, 730 Warren Road, Ithaca, NY 14850. For more details on available tests and to download the forms required for each, Soil Testing Services

11. What information needs to accompany the samples?
For gardens, lawns, trees:

  • Site characteristics
  • Crop to be grown
  • Age of crop
  • Fertilizer used
  • Manure rates applied

12. How long will it take to get test results? 
pH tests are conducted at CCE-Ontario and take from 1 - 3 days. Complete nutrient tests take about  2 weeks. Results are emailed or mailed from the lab directly to you. A copy is also sent to our office.

13. What if I have questions about the results?
Call us at (585) 394-3977 x 436  or email.

14. How much does the test cost?

pH test - no charge
pH testing kits - $18.00 normal range
Standard nutrient test - $13.00 per sample
Payment is sent with paperwork and sample to Dairy One.


Russell Welser
Senior Resource Educator
(585) 394-3977 x 436

Last updated April 13, 2020