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.
For cultivated crops and gardens, samples are taken to the tillage depth (6-10")
For no till or minimum till, take one sample at 0 - 1" and another at a 1 - 6" depth.

4. What is the proper sampling depth?
For cultivated crops and gardens
, sample at 0 - 1" and another at 1 - 6" depth.
For lawns and pastures
, a sample from the upper 6" is satisfactory; remove plant residue.
For tree and fruit crops, 2 samples should be submitted, one taken at 0 - 8" depth, the other at 8 - 16" (subsoil layer).

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 or field. 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, 8:00 am to 4:00 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, please visit our page on "Soil Testing Services".

11. What information needs to accompany the samples?
For commercial crops

  • Soil name and map symbol from soil survey (available at CCE-Ontario)
  • Tillage depth
  • Past crops
  • Future crops to be grown
  • Cover crops
  • Manure rates, if applied

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 mailed from the lab directly to you, and a copy also is sent to our office.

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

14. How much does the test cost?

pH test - no charge
pH testing kits - $14.00 normal range
Standard nutrient test - $12.00 per sample
Payment is sent with paperwork and sample to Dairy One.


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

Last updated October 1, 2018