Savannah Valley District

Soil Sampling: A Simple Way to Prepare Your Garden for Spring

Ellen Sturup Comeau, Water Resources Agent

February is here, and we are starting to see signs of spring! Amidst the cold and rain, we’ve had a few days of warmer, sunny weather, with many of us all dreaming about growing gardens. Luckily, it’s an excellent time of year to start preparing for early April’s planting season! While spending time perusing seed catalogs might be tempting, preparing your gardens begins with the soil.

Filling a soil sample bag. Photo credit:
Ellen Sturup Comeau. Caption #2024

Soil is our gardens’ foundation, and maintaining healthy soil is the first step to a successful, sustainable yard. Healthy soil can improve plant health, reduce the need for irrigation, and reduce yard work time. One way to see if your soil is ready for the 2024 planting season is to get a soil test.

This local anole is enjoying a healthy, native wildflower garden. Photo credit: Ellen Sturup Comeau.
Caption #2021

Soil testing is a straightforward process. After selecting who will perform your soil test (local landscaping companies and Clemson Cooperative Extension both offer these services), bring your service provider a sample of two cups of dirt from your yard. If you would like to submit a soil sample to Clemson Extension, we ask that you collect between eight and ten core samples in the area of interest. The samples should include soil from the surface to a depth of 4 inches if testing a lawn or 6 inches if testing any other landscape. These core samples should be mixed into a single sample and dried. Once dried, please bring at least two cups of the mixed sample to your local Clemson Extension office, fill out a form to let us know what you want to grow, and pay a $6.00 fee per sample.  

Once the sample is received, your service provider will subject the sample to various tests to determine the kinds and amounts of nutrients available in your soil and your soil’s pH level. As part of their standard soil test, Clemson Extension tests for phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), sulfur (S), zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn), copper (Cu), boron (B), and sodium (Na) as well as measure’s the soil’s pH, Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC), and Percent Base Saturation. Your service provider can then use this information to give you a recommendation on the type, amount, and timing of fertilizer and lime your soil needs to provide optimal growing conditions. Soil sample recommendations from Clemson Extension inform you if fertilizer or lime is needed and provide a helpful graph showing which nutrients are present in low, medium, sufficient, high, or excessive amounts for up to four plant groups you are interested in cultivating.

For more information on soil sampling or other ways to help prepare your yard for spring, visit Clemson’s Agricultural Service Laboratory (, the Clemson Home and Garden Information Center (, and Clemson Extension’s Carolina Yards Program (

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.