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Soil Basics, Intensive Session

at Chicago Botanic Garden - Glencoe

Course Details
Start Date:

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Glencoe, Suburbs
1000 Lake Cook Road
Btwn Edens Exprsswy/Rt 41 & Green Bay Rd
Chicago, Illinois 60022
Venue: Classroom 4, Learning Center
Purchase Options
Class Level: All levels
Age Requirements: 18 and older
Average Class Size: 12
Teacher: Ellen Phillips

What you'll learn in this gardening class:

Soil is an irreplaceable natural resource that affects plant selection and growth. Learn to maintain healthy soil; use compost, fertilizers, soilless and potting mixes, and other amendments. Discover how water cycles through a garden and affects soils and plants. Begin to appreciate the circle of life within our soils.

Required text
Secrets to Great Soil by Elizabeth Stell

Required Materials:
  • 3 ring binder
  • Materials for taking notes
  • Soil Sample, required for the first session
Required Soil Sample:
All students will need to bring a soil sample to the first class session. Detailed instructions on how to collect your sample and the required label information to include is below.

Please remember:
  • Sample must be in a sealed Ziploc or sealable plastic baggie clearly labeled with your information on the outside of the bag.
  • Your sample must be 1 cup of soil, do not submit extra.
  • Plastic containers or glass is unacceptable.
  • Any samples brought in that do not meet these specifications will not be submitted.
  • No soil-less mixes or potting soil will be accepted.
  • This sample is required to complete the class.
Additional Information:
If you want to use your own soil for some of the experiments that occur in class, please bring another Ziploc bag with a 4 cup scoop of soil in it (not broken up or sub-sampled). Label the outside of the bag with your name, so it can be saved and used in all the sessions.

Soil Sampling and Testing Instructions

Equipment: Use a clean bucket or other suitable container in which to collect the soil samples and to mix them. The tool used to take the samples can be any of the following: a soil probe or a soil auger is best but a trowel or a garden spade can also be used. With ashovel or trowel cut a one-inch slice down one side of the hole. It is also important to have an equal slice from top to bottom.

Where to Sample: Lime and fertilizer recommendations can be no better than the sample submitted. Be sure the sample is representative of the area to be treated. The teaspoon of soil finally used for analysis weighs a few ounces in comparison to about 50,000 pounds of soil per 1000 square feet to a six-inch depth. Make a simple map of your yard. Before sampling the landscape, look for differences. If areas have been managed differently, they should be sampled separately. Soils with different characteristics, such as color, texture and drainage should be separate samples. Identify on the map the different areas where you will take a composite sample.

Taking the Soil Sample
1) Within the area selected for a sample (i.e. Vegetable garden or rose garden or lawn, etc), dig a hole. The depth depends on what you are trying to grow. Sample depth should be:
  • lawn - 3 or 4 inches deep
  • shrubs and trees - 12 inches
  • flower and vegetable crops - 6 to 8 inches
2) Take a probe of soil or a slice of soil from the edge of the hole. Place this subsample in a pail or pan. Remove roots, stones, earthworms, etc. Fill in the subsample hole.

3) Repeat this procedure in at least three to eight well-scattered spots within the chosen area. The larger the area the more subsamples you need for a good composite soil sample. Place each slice in the pail with those previously taken.

4) Break up clods and mix soil thoroughly with the hands. Place 1 cup of the mixed soil into a labeled sample bag. Discard the remainder of the soil. Providing complete information about samples allows for better fertilizer recommendations.

Packaging the Sample for Class Submission
1) Samples should be brought to your first class session. Regenstein School will be submitting for the class.

2) Pack the sample (thoroughly air-dried) in a sealed plastic bag.

Label the outside of the sample with:
  • Your name
  • The following information: “flower garden,” “vegetable garden,” “shrub border,” “orchard,” “lawn,” and so on.
3) On a separate sheet of paper: Include information describing the history of the sampling area such as what was grown in the garden (lawn, special trouble area or place) last year and what has been done to the soil, such as adding manure or other organic matter. Also include information about what you intend to use the area for such as vegetables, flowers, shrubs, trees, and grass. Attach this to the bag.

Source: Ellen Phillips, Crop Systems Educator, Countryside Extension Center, 6438 Joliet Road, Countryside, IL; 708-352-0109, [email protected], (modified from Cook Co. Soil Sampling)

Still have questions? Ask the community.

Refund Policy
Refund requests must be submitted to [email protected] prior to the program’s start date. The registration fee will be refunded less a 10 percent processing charge.

Fees are nonrefundable and nontransferable on and after the program’s start date. We cannot refund fees requested on or after the start date of a program or for sessions missed due to student illness or other personal situations.

Registration fees for courses grouped and priced as a series will be considered one program and subject to all of the above guidelines. A refund request must be received prior to the start date of the series' first class session and will subsequently cancel your registration in every session of the series. If you choose to re-register for other sessions in the series, the special discount does not apply.


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Chicago Botanic Garden

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School: Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden

The Chicago Botanic Garden opened a little more than 40 years ago as a beautiful place to visit, and it has matured into one of the world's great living museums and conservation science centers. In 2013, one million people visited the Garden's 26 gardens and four natural areas, uniquely situated on...

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