How to Interpret a Garden Soil Test


After you have submitted your soil samples for chemical analysis, you will receive a report that gives a detailed analysis of your soil's composition. In order to act on those results, you will first need to know how you should interpret the data this report will present to you. While formats may vary among testing facilities, the basic data provided will be the same in all cases. Once you know the areas where your soil could use improvement, you will be able to proceed with making your soil a good place to grow whatever you wish.

Step 1

Identify the soil pH level listing in your results. pH levels range from 0 to 14, and tell you how acidic or basic your soil is. Seven is considered neutral. This level affects how nutrients that are present in the soil are made available to plants. At different pH levels, different levels of each nutrient are available. Most plants have a pH range specified in which they will do best.

Step 2

Identify the buffer pH level, which is sometimes referred to in shorthand as "BpH". While standard pH measurements tell you about available acidity, BpH tells you the total acidic or basic levels of your soil. This is a gauge of how much your soil will resist attempts to change its pH by amending it with agricultural lime. Lime raises the pH level of soil.

Step 3

Identify key available nutrient levels in your soil. These include phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg). It is important to note that these numbers do not represent total amounts of these nutrients. Instead, they represent the amounts that your soil pH indicates will be available to growing plants in that soil over the coming year.

Step 4

Identify the cation exchange capacity (C.E.C) of your soil. This number relies in large part on your soil's texture, as this directly affects its ability to hold nutrients that can be absorbed by plants. Sandy soils have a low ability to hold nutrients, while clay soils have a high ability. Base saturation levels in your C.E.C. tell you about how easy it will be for plants to draw necessary Ca, Mg, and K from your soil.

Step 5

Identify micronutrient amounts listed on your report. Plants only need very small amounts of these, and overdoses can be damaging. However, boron (B), copper (Cu), manganese (Mn), iron (Fe), and zinc (Zn) are all necessary for plants in small amounts. If you have deficiencies, your soil test results will let you know so you can address them.


  • Spectrum Analytic: Interpreting Lawn and Garden Soil Test Results
  • University of Missouri Extension: Steps in Fertilizing Garden Soil
Keywords: interpret soil test, read soil test, understand soil test

About this Author

Amrita Chuasiriporn is a professional cook, baker, and writer. In addition to cooking and baking for a living, Chuasiriporn has written for several online publications. These include Chef's Blade, CraftyCrafty, and others. Additionally, Chuasiriporn is a regular contributor to online automotive enthusiast publication Chuasiriporn holds an A.A.S. in culinary arts, as well as a B.A. in Spanish language and literature.