Frequently Asked Questions

How do I take a soil sample?

Choose a relatively uniform area avoiding low spots, trouble spots, any other obviously different areas. Take samples from about 15 different spots across the area using a probe, spade, shovel, garden trowel, or soil auger. For most purposes, sample to about 8 inches deep (plow depth). For lawns or hayfields sample to 3 or 4 inches deep, and for tree crops sample to 12 inches deep. Mix all the 15 different samples together well in a clean bucket and remove a subsample.

How do I send you a sample?

Our soil boxes are preferred. You can request us to mail a soil testing kit to you. Your local Cooperative Extension office has soil test kits. You can return them by mail to Maine Soil Testing Service, University of Maine, 5722 Deering Hall, Orono, ME 04469 or drop them off in room 25 Deering Hall (driving directions). If your soil is extremely wet, please place it in a sealed plastic bag inside our container. Drying your soil is not necessary, but if you choose to do so please air-dry at room temperature. Heat drying of soil will adversely affect the test results.

How much soil should I send?

Send about a pint (2 cup) of sample. This is about the amount that will fill a soil test box.

How do I pay for analysis of my sample?

Please send a check or money order to cover the cost of analysis. Please do not send cash through the mail.

What paperwork should I include with my sample?

You can download the Maine Soil Tests (PDF) which should be sent with the soil sample here. The third page of this form contains more detailed information about taking and labeling your soil samples.

How long will it take to get my results?

Please allow 2 weeks for normal soil results. Additional tests, such as texture or other specialty analysis, may take an extra week to complete. For the shortest turnaround time, drop off your samples or time your shipment to arrive at the lab near the end of the week.

Do you test for lead in soil? Why is lead so important?

Lead is by far the most common contaminant of soils. Lead is very toxic to humans, and children are particularly likely to be affected by lead-contaminated soil by accidentally consuming soil as they play outside. Lead can also be taken up by plants and enter the human diet. We include lead screening in the routine soil fertility test for all soils from gardens, ornamental beds, and turf areas. You will be notified if we suspect your soil may be high in lead. For more information about lead is available in the Lead in the Soil (PDF).

What methods do you use in your standard soil test analysis?
How are recommendations made?

The University of Maine uses a (Modified) Morgan nutrient extraction procedure, which was developed at the University of Connecticut in the 1930’s for use on acidic New England soils. Most New England State Universities and Cornell University still use a Morgan extract. The Morgan extract is a “universal” extractant, meaning all major nutrients (including phosphorus) and many micronutrients can all be measured in the one extract. Recommendations are made in consultation with University of Maine Cooperative Extension crop and soil specialists. More detailed information about testing and recommendations can be found in theSoil Testing Handbook (PDF).

Is the soil I’m planning to purchase really loam? Will it make a good lawn or garden?

There is no legal definition or guaranteed content for purchased soil in Maine. Before purchasing soil, consider using the soil you have on site already. Purchasing soil involves removing or “mining” it from one site for use at another. Even the best quality purchased soil will need some adjustment of pH, organic matter, or nutrient level before use. Often, you will be spending as much time, effort, and money on purchased soil as you would on the soil you have already. However, areas of gravel fill or with soils of high silt and clay content may benefit from a new layer of soil. More information is available in the Purchased Soil or “LOAM” (PDF) .

Do you test soils from outside Maine? outside the U.S.?

Our standard soil test procedures were developed for acidic soils, which are common in New England. They are not necessarily appropriate for other types of soils. If you are interested in sending soils from other regions of the U.S. or world, please contact us to discuss feasibility. Be advised that soil from outside the country and from certain regions within the US is regulated by the USDA and requires a special permit to be shipped or carried into the country.

What types of green manure and cover crops perform well in Maine?

There are several to consider. More information is available in the Selected Green Manures and Cover Crops (PDF).

How can I better control weed growth in my garden?

After only one (or more) years of poorly controlled weed growth, there can be a buildup of a large bank of weed seed in your garden soil. There are a number of management techniques that can be used to help control weed growth in cultivated soils, including the use of cover crops (see above). For more information, in the Weed Control in Established Gardens (PDF).

How do I get rid of moss in my lawn?

Moss will grow wherever conditions are poor for grass growth. The presence of moss does not necessarily indicate that you have an acid soil. For more information, in the Moss in Lawns (PDF).

How should I test the soil in my hoop house, high tunnel, or season extender?

Hoop houses, high tunnels, and season extenders are becoming very popular. Since you are planting in normal garden soil but inside a protected enclosure, there are special considerations and potential problems that should be monitored. We do provide a variation on our routine soil test (Hoop House Special, with a package price) to address these problems (see Field and Soil Sample Information form). For more information on hoop houses, in the Hoop House/High Tunnel Soil Management(PDF).