OREGON COUNTY -- A person can't tell whether a field or garden has too much phosphorus or too little organic matter simply by smelling and touching the soil.
But, if a sample of the soil is taken to a local Oregon County University of Missouri Extension Center, it can be tested to determine what is needed to make the soil better.
"When planting time arrives, people often wonder if they are putting the right amount of lime and fertilizer on their lawn, garden or field. If that's the case, take a soil sample before you plant a crop or garden next spring," said Tom Schnakenberg, an agronomy specialist with University Extension. "A soil test should be the basis of any fertilizer program."
A soil test provides information on the nutrient levels (potassium, calcium or lime and magnesium), the percentage of organic matter and lime requirements. With this information, a fertilizer and lime program can be determined based on the needs of the plants to be grown and the condition of the soil.
When taking a soil sample from the lawn, garden or field, Schnakenberg said to always use a clean spade and clean pail. "Push the spade deep into the soil and throw out a spade full of soil. Then cut a one-inch slice of soil from the back hole with the spade. Be sure the slice goes 7 inches deep and is even with width and thickness. Place this slice in a pail," he said.
He said to repeat those steps five or six times at different spots over the lawn, garden or field.
"Thoroughly mix the six or seven slices you have in the pail. After mixing, take about one pint of soil to the Extension center at Alton," he said.
There is a fee for soil test, $12.50, to cover laboratory costs. Getting results back generally takes from one to two weeks.
Returned tests show ph and phosphorus levels, calcium, magnesium and organic matter and other elements when they apply to the situation. The soil test report provides information on soil test results and ratings, suggested fertilizer and limestone treatments for the lawn or field and fertility management practices or concerns.
Each soil test done with the Extension office also comes with recommendations made by a trained and experienced specialist who can also answer any question a person has free of charge.
"Without the information a soil test provides, all a person can do is guess. A guess will normally result in crop loss or poor blooming. To make it easy for a person to interpret the soil tests, the report will indicate which fertilizers, and how much, a person should apply," he said.
Having a soil test done will save fertilizer costs on lawns or fields. With the price of fertilizer going up 30 percent last year, and with a similar increase this year, a soil test will save a homeowner or producer much more than it costs to have the soil test done.
"The price is a bargain when you consider the savings realized and the environmental importance of having a soil test done so you do not over fertilize," he said.
For more information on soil testing call the local Extension office at Alton at 417-778-7490 and ask for UMC Guide 9110 "How to Get a Good Soil Sample" and Guide 9111, "Using Your Soil Test Results."