A website from UGA Cooperative Extension

“How do I submit a soil sample, what will it tell me, and why should I do it?”

Growing a healthy plant starts with the soil. Plants need nutrients to live (just like people), and they obtain these nutrients from the soil through their roots. And just like people, a healthy plant that has access to the right nutrients is strong, vigorous, and can withstand diseases and pests.

The best way to determine if your plant is getting the nutrients it needs is through a soil test! A routine soil test ($12) will tell you the relative levels of macronutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium), as well as some micronutrients (calcium, magnesium, zinc, and manganese) in your sample. An expanded test ($14) will tell you levels of lots more micronutrients and heavy metals, like iron, copper, and lead. Knowing what nutrients you already have and what you need to add will save you time and money adding the correct soil amendments and will set your plants up for success.

A soil test will also tell you the pH, or acidity/alkalinity of your soil. This matters because most nutrients become available to a plant within a specific pH range. Most plants like a pH between 6.5-7.5, but some plants, like blueberries and turfgrasses, like a more acidic pH. Getting your soil’s pH right ensures that your plants’ roots can access the soil nutrients that are there.

You should always take multiple samples, or “cores,” from various points around your garden, lawn, flower bed, or whatever area you are looking to plant in. We recommend collecting 8-10 cores in a zig-zag pattern throughout the area so we can determine the average nutrient levels.  You can use a coring tool, shovel or trowel to dig up the sample. For lawns, we recommend collecting a “slice” of soil to a depth of 3-4 inches.  For vegetable gardens, ornamental plantings, and other deep rooted plants, we recommend 4-6 inches. 

Combine all of your cores in a clean, non-metal container, mix them well, and transfer to a ziplock sandwich bag.  Label all your bags if you are taking soil from multiple areas, and bring them into your local Extension office. At the office, you can transfer your sample to  UGA soil sample bag. We will process your samples and ship them to the University of Georgia Soil and Water Lab for testing.

Results are emailed to you within 5 to 10 business days and will tell you what nutrients are available in your soil, the pH, and how to amend your soil based on what you want to plant there. Test lawns every 2-3 years and vegetable garden plots every year.  For more information, see our publication Soil Testing for Home Lawns, Gardens, and Wildlife Food Plots.

“My plant is dying!  How can I find out what’s wrong with it?”

Our Agriculture and Natural Resources agents as well as our Master Gardener Extension Volunteers can help diagnose plant diseases. We may suggest that you submit a sample to the UGA Plant Diagnostic Lab ($10), where a plant pathologist will look at your sample under the microscope, identify any pathogens present, and provide tailored recommendations.

If you suspect something is wrong with your plant, the first step is to take a few high-quality images and email them to our Agriculture and Natural Resources agents. We may be able to identify your issue from photos alone. If we cannot make a diagnosis, we may ask that you bring in a fresh physical sample of your affected plant to one of our offices. Bringing in a whole plant is best (vegetables or small flowering plants), but clipped tissue samples will also work if this is not possible (trees or large shrubs). 

It is important to bring physical samples into our office the day they are collected.  It is best to submit these samples on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays in case we need to ship them to our diagnostic lab.

“I think something may be wrong with my water.  What should I do?”

We offer various water tests to diagnose a multitude of water problems in the home. A basic water test that detects the most common pollutants is recommended in cases of a foul smell, discoloration, odd taste, staining, or other symptom.  We also offer tests for bacterial contamination, pesticide pollution and various other issues.  Each test has specific instructions on how to collect your sample: please call us so we can instruct you on what test is best and how to collect your sample.

“How do I become a Master Gardener Extension Volunteer?”

We hold Master Gardener Extension Volunteer trainings every other year. The application process begins in September, and final selections are made by the end of November.  Classes start the following January and run once a week until April. After trainees complete 50 hours of classroom training, they have until the end of the calendar year to complete 50 hours of volunteer service on Extension-approved projects.  Upon graduation, trainees are officially considered MGEVs. Each year thereafter, MGEVs are required to complete 25 hours of volunteer service on Extension projects as well as 10 hours of continuing education.  For information on our next class, please click here.

“Do you offer credit for pesticide license holders?”

Yes!  We regularly hold programs such as landscaping seminars and the “Getting the Best of Pests” webinars that qualify for continuing education credits across all categories.  To stay informed about these programs, please join our email list and keep track of our social media.  If you are unsure how many credits you have or need, or are interested in obtaining your license, visit the Georgia Department of Agriculture to learn how you can get started today.

“How do I start a community garden in my neighborhood?”

Starting a community garden is no small task, and keeping it going is an even bigger one!  UGA Extension Specialists have published several resources to help you through to process from start to finish. To get an idea of how to plan for, start and run a community garden, check out our How to Start a Community Garden publication. More information on this can be found in our Resources section.

UGA Extension can provide technical information to help you make decisions about your community garden, but we cannot manage or provide labor for your garden.

“I think my tree might be dying. Can someone come out and look at it?”

We do not have a certified arborist on staff, so we are unable to advise on hazard tree issues and tree removal due to liability. However, we do have a useful publication (Is My Tree Dying?) that can help you troubleshoot your trees issues. You may also visit the Georgia Arborist Association to find information about how to find tree care near you. If you need help selecting proper varieties for your yard, feel free to give us a call!

Is my soil safe to build a house on and install a septic tank?”

Unfortunately, our soil tests do no help answer this question. However, there are certified soil classifiers who can perform structural assessments and percolation tests. Check out this list of certified soil classifiers.

I just bought an acre/five acres/twenty acres and want to start a farm. What do I do now?”

To be a successful farmer, always start with knowing what grows well in your area, what markets you might want to enter, and what you’re interested in *before* you purchase your property. We are always happy to provide perspective and ideas to help guide your decisions. Check out our publications page for a wealth of information on vegetables and fruits in Georgia, market recaps and predictions, and useful tips for both large scale and small scale farms.