Healthy soil is rich in nutrients. These soils hold moisture and drain well. Soil life includes earthworms, beetles, bacteria and microorganisms. Healthy soil generally has a dark crumbly appearance and a rich pleasant earthy smell. If this doesn’t sound like your soil, read on for some tips on what you can do to improve the health of your soil.
Tip #1: Add Organic Matter to Improve Your Soil’s Structure
Regardless of your soil type (i.e. clay, loam or sand), adding organic matter is probably the single most important thing you can do to improve your soil. Organic matter supports the soil life that is the key to healthy soil. Together organic matter and soil life help bind the soil particles into various sizes of aggregates giving it the appearance of cookie crumbs. Compost is one of the best things you can add to your soil. The best compost comes from mixing a variety of ingredients. Kitchen trimmings from fruits and vegetables, coffee grounds, grass clippings, shredded leaves, chopped up yard waste and barnyard manures are all free sources of materials to compost. Add compost in the spring before planting, side dress plants or mulch with it during the growing season and add more in the fall when putting your garden to bed. Composting also keeps these materials from taking up expensive landfill space.
Tip #2: Cover Crops
Mother Nature never intended soil to become bare. Our civilization and weed free management counteracts the role that Mother Nature intended. Cover crops are a way to improve the health of your soil. While growing, cover crops crowd out weeds and reduce soil erosion from wind and rain. Tilling the green tops into the soil adds organic matter. The roots of cover crops add to the soil’s structure by leaving channels in the soil when they decompose, thus improving water and air infiltration.
Tip #3: Do a Soil Test and Follow Recommendations
Have your soil tested by a soil-testing lab. The lab will send you a report of the current state of nutrients in your soil and give recommendations of amendments that can be made depending on the intended use of the soil. Another important component of the soil test is the pH. Nutrient availability can vary with the soil’s pH. Most plants and the soil life prefer a soil pH between 5.5 and 6.5. If your soil’s pH is out of this optimal range, follow the lab’s recommendations for correcting it. Adjusting soil pH takes time; you should probably test your soil every 2 to 3 years. More information on soil testing may be found on the soil testing page.
Tip #4: Protect Your Soil
Avoid compacting the soil. Working the soil early in the spring when it is too wet can damage your soil’s structure. Soil should not be dug unless it is dry enough to crumble. Avoid foot traffic and heavy equipment on your lawn and garden beds since they crush the soil’s pores.
Taking steps to work to improve the health of your soil can pay big dividends. Plants grown in healthy soil are much less likely to have insect and disease problems. As an added bonus, healthy soils reduce runoff, meaning streams will be healthier too.
Deep soils found on nearly level to moderately steep slopes. These are somewhat poorly drained and well-drained soils that are found on flood plains, terraces, and outwash deposits (from melting glaciers).
Deep soils found on gently sloping to moderately steep slopes. These are well-drained to moderately well-drained soils that were formed in glacial outwash deposits mainly on kames and eskers (embankments & mounds left by melting glaciers).
Deep soils found on nearly level to gently sloping slopes. These are somewhat poorly drained and very poorly drained soils formed in freshwater deposits and by glacial plowing.
Deep soils found on nearly level to gently sloping slopes. These are very poorly drained and somewhat poorly drained soils formed by glacial plowing.
Deep soils found on level to moderately steep slopes. These are moderately well-drained and somewhat poorly drained soils that contain a hard dense layer called a fragipan. They were formed by glacial plowing.
Deep soils found on nearly level to gently sloping slopes. These are somewhat poorly drained and moderately well-drained soils that were formed by glacial plowing.
Deep and moderately deep soils found on gently sloping to very steep slopes. These are well-drained soils that were formed by glacial plowing.
Deep and moderately deep soils found on gently sloping to steep slopes. These are well-drained and moderately well-drained soils that were formed by glacial plowing.
Moderately deep soils found on gently sloping to steep slopes. These are well-drained soils that were formed by glacial plowing and weathering (breaking down) of sandstone bedrock.
Deep soils found on nearly level to very steep slopes. These are well-drained and moderately well-drained soils that contain a hard dense layer called a fragipan. They were formed by glacial plowing.
Deep soils found on gently sloping to very steep slopes. These are moderately well-drained and well-drained soils that were formed by glacial plowing.
The Soil Survey is useful to farmers, landowners, and people with natural resource interests and provides a broad view of soil conditions for planning purposes. Our District feels the Survey is a beneficial land-use planning tool so development and farming can be done in a way that is environmentally responsible.
Click the button below to explore and learn more about your soil types and characteristics of your land, as well as other soils throughout the country.
Additional Soil Information
Click below for additional soil information from the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Have you considered having your soil tested? In order to have good, healthy, productive plants you must start with fertile, healthy soil. Good soil retains water, releases nutrients and drains well. It must contain adequate nutrients, optimum pH and organic matter to be healthy and fertile. Guessing about additives for your lawn, garden or farm field usually means too little or too much fertilizer gets added. Too little fertilizer may result in healthy plants. Too much is wasteful and can threaten our lakes and wetlands. Also, soils vary within the state, your neighborhood, and even your yard or farm field. What may be good for your neighbor or brother’s lawn, garden or farm field may not be right for yours.
Don’t guess or take someone else’s recommendations. Find out what your soil needs – take a soil test.
A soil test will tell you what nutrients your plants or lawn need and will recommend the amount of fertilizer (N-P-K) to add to your soil. The N stands for nitrogen. Nitrogen encourages fast, green growth. The P stands for phosphorus. Phosphorus stimulates root development, rapid growth and quality plants. The K stands for potassium and promotes disease resistance, strong stems and winter hardiness.
A soil test will also tell the current pH of your soil. Soil pH is a measure of soil acidity. Nutrient availability is influenced by the pH of the soil. Plants need an optimum pH to grow and be productive. Acidic soils have a pH lower than 7.0. Neutral soils have a pH of 7.0. And soils with a pH above 7.0 are called alkaline. Most plants will grow adequately p to a soil pH of 7.5. Some plants, such as blueberries and azaleas, love acidic soil while other plants, such as tomatoes and carrots, prefer alkaline soils.
The results of the soil test also include an analysis of the amount of organic matter in your soil. The amount of organic matter is important because the more organic matter you have in your soil, the better the water holding capacity, drainage, and tilth of your soil. To increase the organic matter level in your soil, you can add materials such as manure, compost or peat moss.
Richland Soil and Water Conservation District offers soil testing for gardeners, hobby farms, lawn care and farmers.
Taking a soil sample (see instructions below) is fairly straight-forward or we can pull the sample for you. If we pull the sample, an extra charge will apply and staff availability will determine when the sample is pulled.
How it Works
- First determine what you are going to be growing: vegetables, flowers, trees, lawn, crops, etc…
- Take your own soil sample or have Richland Soil and Water Conservation District do it for you. Sample bags are available through Richland Soil and Water Conservation District. You can also use a quart-size, re-sealable plastic sandwich bag
- Write your name and contact info on the bag
- Complete an agriculture and/or turf soil testing form
- Return the sample and soil testing form(s) to Richland Soil and Water Conservation District
- The sample is sent to a lab for testing
- Soil analysis is sent to Richland Soil and Water Conservation District. The results and recommendations will be emailed.
Garden and Turf Soil Testing:
- Fill out a turf form if testing gardens and turf
- For gardens, dig your sample 8 inches deep
- For lawns, dig your samples 4 inches deep
- Basic turf and ornamental test: $22 per sample
- Basic turf with micronutrients test: $28 per sample
- Complete turf test: $53 per sample
Agriculture Field and Pasture Soil Testing:
- For agriculture fields and pastures, fill out an agriculture form
- For agriculture fields, dig your samples 8 inches deep
- For pastures, dig your samples 4 inches deep
- Basic package: $20 per sample
- Basic plus package: $23 per sample
- Complete package: $29 per sample
What Do the Tests Include?
Basic Turf and Ornamental Soil Test Package: Includes Soil pH, Buffer pH (when needed), Organic Matter, Available Phosphorous, Exchangeable Potassium, Calcium Magnesium, Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC), Percent Base Saturation of Cation Elements. Recommendations for Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium, Magnesium and Lime by plant species on a special turf and ornamental soil analysis report with graphic display of results.
Basic Turf and Ornamental Soil Test Package with Micronutrients: Includes Basic Turf & Ornamental Soil Test Package plus Iron, Manganese, Zinc, and Copper. Recommendations for Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Magnesium, Lime, Iron, Manganese, Zinc and Copper by plant species on a special turf and ornamental soil analysis report with graphic display of results.
Complete Turf and Ornamental Soil Test Package: Includes Basic Turf and Ornamental Soil Test Package with Micronutrients plus Nitrate Nitrogen, Sodium, Sulfur, Boron and Soluble Salts. Recommendations for Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Magnesium, Lime, Iron, Manganese, Zinc and Copper, Sulfur and Boron by plant species on a special turf and ornamental soil analysis report with graphic display of results.
Agriculture and Pasture Basic Soil Test Package: Soil pH, Buffer pH, Organic Matter, Available Phosphorus, Exchangeable Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Cation Exchange Capacity, Percent Base Saturation of Cation Elements with recommendations
Agriculture and Pasture Basic Plus Soil Test Package: Basic Soil Test plus choice of any three of the following micronutrients: Boron, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Sulfur and Zinc with recommendations.
Agriculture and Pasture Complete Soil Test Package: Basic Soil Test plus Boron, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Sulfur and Zinc with recommendations.
How to Interpret Your Soil Test Results and Nutrient Explanation
How to Take A Soil Sample
- Samples can be taken with a variety of tools, but we prefer a shovel. Make sure it is clean and isn’t rusty or galvanized, bronzed or brassed.
- Scrape any debris and thatch, including mulch, from the area you are sampling before you dig
- Dig out pieces of soil about 6 to 8 inches deep. If sampling your lawn, dig 3 to 4 inches deep.
- Randomly repeat in different parts of the area you want tested (approximately 10 -15 samples), so that the combined sample is a good representation of the entire area
- Put the samples in a clean, plastic bucket. Do not use galvanized or rubber buckets, because they will contaminate the samples. Use a trowel or smaller shovel to completely mix the sample.
- Fill the sample bag or quart-size re-sealable, plastic sandwich bag with the sample and label the bag with your name, contact information and the sample description.
- The soil can be wet or dry when you take a sample, but you will get better results with dry soil since it can be mixed easier. If you take it wet, allow it to dry and then mix. Break up all clumps before mixing. If we think the soil is too wet when you bring it to us, we will dry it out. It will take a number of days before the sample dries and will delay getting your results back.
- Bring the soil sample to Richland Soil and Water Conservation District
- Provide us with your contact information, how the soil was used previously, how you want to use the soil and a sample description.
Do Not Sample:
- Dead or back furrows
- Fence rows, old or new
- Old roadbeds, or near limestone gravel roads
- Terrace channels
- Win breaks or snow fence lines
- Turn rows
- Spill areas
- Fertilizer bands including Anhydrous N
- Unusual or abnormal spots