UPDATE – What You Need to Know About Soil Samples

— Written By Anna-Beth Williams and last updated by Deb Fuller
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How to use previous soil test results for yards and home gardens

April 8, 2020 — The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Agronomic Services lab has scaled back its testing to a few core services, making home soil testing another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, homeowners may be able to use the recommendations from a previous year’s test to maintain their yards and gardens.

“At this time, the lab is accepting only diagnostic soil samples from agricultural clients,” said David Hardy, Soil Lab section chief. “Generally, soil testing is advised every 2 to 3 years. If you submitted soil samples to be tested in this timeframe, you can still use the recommendations from these past reports.”

Old soil test reports issued can be found at the Agronomic Services website, http://www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/pals/, where you will enter your last name in the search tool.

If lime was applied based on a report found at this website, it is unlikely that additional lime is needed for the upcoming growing season, Hardy said. Routine application of lime is never advised since soil pH may be raised too high.

Previous soil testing reports would have provided a phosphorus (P) index reported as a P-I and potassium (K) index reported as a K-I. From these soil test levels, a fertilizer recommendation comprised of a specific grade or analysis (example = 5-10-5) and rate per 1,000 square feet was provided.

Nitrogen (N) is not analyzed by the lab for soil tests but it is needed seasonally to promote plant growth. A nitrogen level is provided in the recommended grade or analysis of fertilizer; in this example, it is the first number of the grade.

“Using these same fertilizer recommendations will provide satisfactory results for homeowners wanting to fertilize this year,” Hardy said. Additionally, a homeowner’s guide to understanding fertilizer is found here http://www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/pdffiles/sfn8.pdf.
If you have questions about an old report or need further advice, please feel free to contact the lab at 919-733-2655.

What You Need to Know About Soil Samples

  • Routine samples for your garden, yard, and even farm fields are not being analyzed at this time and NCDA & CS asks that you not send these samples to Raleigh
  • To limit the spread of COVID-19, public access to the Eaddy Building has been restricted until further notice
  • Due to reduced staff, samples at the lab are being addressed on a priority basis
  • If you have taken samples in the past year or two, you can use those recommendations to amend your soils
  • If you do not have a copy of an old report, reports can be found by searching your name on the PALS website.
  • Diagnostic samples that are deemed essential for North Carolina are still being received an analyzed at the soil testing lab. If you have a true problem in your plants (discoloration, stunting, abnormal growth), please reach out to your Extension Agent to see whether it may be a nutrient issue (that can be determined by a diagnostic sample) or disease issue (that cannot be determined by a diagnostic sample). Diagnostic Samples must be accompanied by the Diagnostic Soil Test Form http://www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/pdffiles/ad2.pdf
  • The following samples are currently being accepted by the lab:
    • soil diagnostic
    • nematode diagnostic
    • nematode pinewood
    • nematode molecular diagnostic
    • plant tissue
    • solution
    • soilless media
    • waste samples not covered by the NCDEQ waiver on liquid animal waste
  • Our county building is currently closed to the public, therefore, soil sample boxes are not available at this time. As soon as the lab is running at a higher capacity, we will let you know. Thanks for your patience and understanding!

To speak with an Agriculture Extension Agent within your area, please contact: