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Fact Sheets

  • The most critical step in soil testing is collecting the sample. It is important that you take the necessary steps to obtain a representative sample; a poor sample could result in erroneous recommendations.

  • In order to make lime and fertilizer recommendations, we need to know what you are growing. We use Crop Codes to learn this information so that we can give you the appropriate recommendations. Crop Codes are listed on the second page of each of the Routine Soil Analysis order forms. Order forms for Routine Soil Analysis are divided into four sub-categories: Turf, Ornamentals, and Landscaping; Home Grounds and Gardening, Commercial Vegetable and Fruit Crops; and Forage and Grain Crops.

  • The primary goal of soil testing is to inform efficient and effective resource management. Soil testing is the most accurate way to determine lime and nutrient needs. Soil testing is also useful for identifying contaminated sites (e.g., elevated levels of lead).

  • So, you’ve received your soil test results. Now what? Here’s a brief guide to converting your test results into an appropriate fertilizer application.

    1. First, an understanding of the labelling on a fertilizer bag is needed. On most fertilizer bags, there are three numbers listed on the package in the format X-X-X. These are percentages of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (as P2O5), and potassium (as K2O) within the bag. That means a bag of 10-10-10 contains 10% N, 10% P and 10% K (or a ratio of 1:1:1). A fertilizer rated 30-0-4 has 30% N, 0% P and 4% K.

  • Soil Lead Contamination

    Lead is naturally present in all soils.  It generally occurs in the range of 15 to 40 parts lead per million parts of soil (ppm), or 15 to 40 milligrams lead per kilogram of soil (mg/kg). Pollution can increase soil lead levels to several thousand ppm.  The major cause of soil lead contamination in populated areas is the weathering, chipping, scraping, sanding, and sand-blasting of structures bearing lead-based paint.

  • Soils in New England are naturally low in essential nutrients needed for crop production due to high yearly rainfall that leaches out many nutrients. Phosphorus is the only nutrient element that is usually adequate in New England soils because it is not susceptible to leaching. Most soil phosphorus is tightly bound to the soil particles. The exception is in soils with very high phosphorus in close proximity to water. In these cases, phosphorus may be leached into waterways, causing algae blooms and killing fish.

  • What is soil pH? Soil pH is a measure of active acidity based on the concentration of hydrogen ions (H+) in soil solution. It is an indicator of the soil’s current condition, and is a primary factor controlling nutrient availability, microbial processes, and plant growth. A pH of 7.0 is neutral, less than 7.0 is acidic, and greater than 7.0 is alkaline. As acidity increases, soil pH decreases.   Maintaining proper soil pH is one of the most important aspects of soil fertility management.

  • Soil contamination can come in many forms and is often the by-product of human activities that deposit hazardous materials to the soil. Soil contaminants include PCBs, PAHs, petroleum products, heavy metals, pesticides and more.  There are different analytical procedures for measuring each type of contaminant in the soil, so it is important to know what could potentially be present in your soil in order to use the appropriate procedure to measure it.

  • View the PRoceedings of the Annual International Conference on Soils, Sediments, Water and Energy on ScholarWorks

  • The UMass Soil Testing Lab tests commercial greenhouse soilless media using the Saturated Media Extraction (SME) method. The same basic method is used by most universities and commercial labs operated by major greenhouse fertilizer and soil mix manufacturers. Interpretation values differ according to various extraction methods.

    Use the nutrient values on this fact sheet to interpret the results of your SME test(s) analyzed by UMass.
    Nutrient Levels

  • Nitrogen (N) is essential to nearly every aspect of plant growth, but it is one of the most difficult nutrients to manage. When plant available N exceeds crop demand, nitrate accumulates in soil increasing the risk of ground water contamination. High levels of available N can produce succulent plants that are more susceptible to environmental stress and pest pressure. When plant-available N is too low, crop health and productivity suffer. The key to successfully managing N is to determine the relatively narrow range between too much and too little – this is not an easy task.

  • Like many perennial woody plants, the nutritional needs of grapevines are best assessed through a combination of soil testing, careful observation, and plant tissue analysis. Through soil testing, growers can monitor soil pH, organic matter, and nutrient levels of the vineyard. Soil testing, however, does not take into consideration site conditions and other cultural requirements of grapevines.

  • Over-fertilization of soils used for agricultural and horticultural purposes is a growing environmental concern. Attention to this issue has been renewed by nutrient management regulations being drafted in Massachusetts and other states. This fact sheet is intended to address the causes and effects of over-fertilization, as well as to recommend corrective measures.