What Is a Soil Test & Why Do You Need One?

Updated on February 7, 2020
OldRoses profile image

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.


What is a Soil Test?

Before starting any garden or landscaping, it’s important to have a soil test performed. A soil test will give you a snapshot of the pH of your soil and the level of nutrients available. This is critical for plant health. Too much or too little of any nutrient can be the difference between success or failure. Before you go out and spend money on fertilizer that you may or may not need, call your local extension office and request a soil test kit.

Why Should You Use a Professional Soil Testing Laboratory?

You should always use the soil test kits and soil-testing laboratory recommended by your local extension office rather than the cheap soil test kits you see on store shelves. Store-bought soil test kits are not always accurate and the soil samples used are too small to get a clear picture of your entire yard or garden. It is worth it to pay more for a soil lab to do the testing. A larger sample will be tested under laboratory conditions resulting in more accurate results. The lab will also send you a written report of the results along with recommendations for any amendments needed to optimize your soil. You don’t get that from a store-bought kit.

Using the correct tools will ensure the accuracy of your soil test.
Using the correct tools will ensure the accuracy of your soil test. | Source

What Tools are Needed to Collect Your Soil Sample?

The tools you use to take your soil samples are important. You can use any kind of digging tool such as a shovel or a garden trowel as long as it is not made of brass, bronze or galvanized metal. These metals contain copper or zinc which can contaminate your samples. Use a plastic rather than metal bucket to mix your samples for the same reason. Clean the bucket before using especially if it has previously been filled with fertilizer or other chemicals to avoid contaminating your samples.

When taking soil samples in your lawn, make sure that you collect them from every part of your lawn.
When taking soil samples in your lawn, make sure that you collect them from every part of your lawn. | Source

How To Correctly Take Soil Samples

You will need to dig 10 to 12 small holes for a large area such as a lawn or 6 to 8 holes for a smaller area such as a vegetable garden. If you are testing your vegetable garden, take samples from every part of the garden. If you are testing your lawn, make sure you sample the lawn in your front yard, back yard and side yards.

The soil samples should be taken at the depth of the roots of the plants that will be growing in that area. For a lawn, that means holes 3 inches deep. For a garden, either vegetable or flower, you will need to dig 6 to 8 inches. Mix the soil from all of your samples in your bucket to get a good representative example of the soil in your yard. Then place the soil in the container provided with the kit, fill out the enclosed forms and send it off to the local laboratory.

What Will the Soil Test Results Tell Me?

The laboratory will be looking at the pH level of your soil as well as the levels of phosphorous, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Garden plants grow best in a pH of 5.5 to 7.0. If your soil pH is outside of the range, your plants may not be able to access nutrients that they need to grow. After analysis, the soil lab will send you a report that tells you what your pH is and the amounts of phosphorous, potassium, magnesium and calcium in your soil. The report will contain recommendations for the appropriate amendments to add to your soil to optimize it for your lawn or garden.

My Experience with Soil Testing

I had the soil in my vegetable garden tested because I noticed that the plants were large and lush, but my harvest was small. This usually indicates too much nitrogen which encourages foliage growth and too little phosphorous which is critical for vegetable and fruit production. The soil test report confirmed my suspicions and suggested I add bone meal, a source of phosphorous, to my garden. I chose Jobe’s Organics Bone Meal because it is organic and high quality. I applied it at the rate suggested by the report in the fall so that it would have all winter to be incorporated into my soil. Sure enough, the following summer my garden was producing many more vegetables than the previous year.

Fall is the best time to have your soil tested and to add the recommended amendments to your lawn or garden.
Fall is the best time to have your soil tested and to add the recommended amendments to your lawn or garden. | Source

You Should Test Your Soil Every 3 Years

You should repeat your soil test every three years to make sure that your soil remains at the correct pH and the nutrients are at the correct levels for your lawn and garden. Fall is the best time to take you soil test because the amendments you add will have all winter to be incorporated into your soil.

© 2014 Caren White


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, dengarden.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)