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testing soil samples
Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Laboratory

Soil testing is provided by the UMass Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Lab, located in Paige Laboratory, 161 Holdsworth Way, Amherst, MA.

For additional information not outlined on this page, call the UMass Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Lab at (413) 545-2311.

Visit their web site at

Why Test Soil?

  • to aid in the diagnosis of plant culture problems
  • to improve the soil's nutritional balance
  • to save money and conserve energy by applying only the amount of fertilizer needed

The most common soil test performed is a measure of the soil pH level or acidity. Soil pH is a primary factor in plant growth. When pH is maintained at the proper level for a given plant, nutrients are at maximum availability, toxic elements are often at reduced availability, and beneficial soil organisms are most active. Most plants prefer a soil pH between 5.5 and 7.5 and the majority do best in the middle part of this range. Some notable acid-loving exceptions are blueberries, potatoes, and rhododendrons.

Soil tests do not identify plant growth problems associated with soil drainage, insects, plant diseases (whether soil-borne or not), weeds, winter injury or the misuse of pesticides.

When to Sample

Sampling can be done at any time, but if pH adjustments are necessary, test as early as possible prior to planting. Avoid sampling soils that have very recently been fertilized.

Soil Sampling Procedure

  • Each sample submitted for testing should be a composite or mixture of 6-12 separate scattered samplings taken over a well-defined area.
  • Soils that are distinctly different based on appearance, crop growth or past treatment should be sampled separately.
  • Define a sample area based on uniformity of texture, slope, drainage, color, and past pest and fertility management.
  • Avoid sampling very wet soils.
  • Using a clean spade, auger, or sampling tube, obtain soil from the surface through the primary rooting zone. For most plants the top 6-8
  • Place each of the 6-12 randomly spaced samplings in a clean container (pail or bag) and mix thoroughly. Spread the mixture out on a clean paper to air-dry (do not place soil in an oven).
  • Mix the soil again. Obtain a one cup measure of the soil mixture and place it in a zip-lock type bag.
  • Label the outside of the bag clearly with your name, address, and a sample ID.

To obtain online instructions on submitting a sample from the UMass Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Lab, including a printable soil sample submission form, visit:

Available Tests

Services offered by the UMass Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Lab include a wide variety of soil tests, plant tissue testing, water testing, fertilizer testing, compost testing, and soilless greenhouse media testing.

To see a complete list of available tests from the UMass Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Lab, visit: