How to Find Out If Land Is Fertile Enough for a Garden


Lush green gardens brimming with fresh fruits and vegetables may look like they sprang from nature, but that often is far from the truth. To grow abundant fruit gardeners spend hours preparing the soil and tending to growing plants. Although, a successful garden is often attributed to the skill of the gardener, without fertile soil even the most talented gardener faces a challenge. Testing the soil to determine the soil's condition and available nutrients is the first step toward a bountiful harvest.

Step 1

Contact your local cooperative extension office for a soil test kit. The extension office offers soil testing services for a minimal charge, provides a written summary of the condition of your soil and includes directions for amending it.

Step 2

Gather a soil sample in fall before the ground freezes or early spring once the soil has thawed. Fall testing allows time for amendments to break down and improve the soil.

Step 3

Take samples of soil in several locations in the gardening area. The University of Minnesota recommends sampling five different areas. Use clean tools, like a garden spade or trowel, to dig to a depth of 6 to 9 inches. Scoop ½ to 1 cup of fresh soil into a clean container from each location.

Step 4

Mix the five samples in a clean bucket. Place approximately 2 cups of soil in the sample collection container provided by the extension service.

Step 5

Label the container with your name and identifying information. Fill out all required forms, enclose the appropriate fee and return the soil sample to the soil testing department for evaluation.

Step 6

Follow the instructions in the written summary to adjust pH, balance nutrients and add organic matter to the soil.

Tips and Warnings

  • Always handle soil with clean tools. Trace amounts of fertilizer or other contaminants left on the spade may alter the results of the soil analysis.

Things You'll Need

  • Soil test kit
  • Spade
  • Scoop, trowel or cup
  • Bucket


  • University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory: How to Sample
  • University of Maine Extension: Know Your Soil

Who Can Help

  • University of Maine Extension: Interpreting Soil Test Results for Gardens and Grounds
Keywords: test soil fertility, soil testing, soil samples, soil test kit, test garden soil

About this Author

Nannette Richford is an avid gardener, teacher and nature enthusiast with 4 years experience in online writing and a lifetime of personal journals. She is published on various sites, including Associated Content. Richford holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education from the University of Maine Orono and certifications in 7-12 English, K-8 General Elementary and Birth to age 5.