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  April 30, 2001

Lab Helps Growers Get Best from Soil

For those that intend to do some planting this spring, knowing the type of soil being sown is of critical importance to having a productive growing season.

Help is available for both home owners and commercial growers to determine the chemical and physical makeup of their soil at the University's Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory.

The laboratory, which tests between 10,000 and 12,000 soil samples per year, is part of the plant science department and cooperative extension system in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

"The lab primarily analyzes soils for nutrient content and pH," says Thomas Morris, associate professor of plant science and director of the lab. "From the test results, we then provide fertilizer and limestone recommendations for the soil." On request, the laboratory will also test the soil's texture and the amount of organic matter it contains.

The advantage of knowing the type of soil being worked with is significant. Not only does it allow growers to provide the crops the optimum nutrient and pH conditions, it can also help prevent over-liming and over-fertilizing the soil. Preventing the use of excess fertilizer benefits the environment as well the grower.

"More people are becoming aware of the environmental impact of fertilizers and the potential for them to contaminate groundwater," says Dawn Pettinelli, manager of the Soil Testing Laboratory. "Farmers also want to minimize their use of nitrogen fertilizers because of the cost."

To help commercial growers of silage corn, pumpkin and sweet corn to best fertilize their soil, the lab also offers a nitrate test from early June through mid-July.

The procedure for having soil tested is simple. Individuals need only collect soil samples, seal them in a plastic bag, and fill out a questionnaire about the type of plant or plants intended to be grown in that area.

For details of how to collect, package and send soil samples, call the Home and Garden Center toll free at (877) 486-6271. The lab's website also provides instructions. Soil sample collection kits, including a questionnaire, plastic bag and mailing envelope, are available from the Soil Testing Laboratory at (860) 486-4274, the Home and Garden Education Center at (877) 486-6271, or from local Cooperative Extension Offices.

Samples should be sent to the Soil Testing Laboratory, 6 Sherman Place U-5102, University of Connecticut Storrs, CT 06269-4102. The cost for a routine nutrient and pH analysis is $5 per sample. Additional fees are charged for organic matter and soil texture analyses.

The soil testing lab also conducts outreach work, attending both the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show and the Connecticut Ag Expo to offer free soil pH testing and information about the importance of having soil tested.

Rebecca Stygar

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