Residential soil testing helps homeowners determine the proper course of action prior to planting any plants, trees or shrubs. Additionally, such testing can reveal whether lead contamination is a factor in residential soil. Consultation of a homeowner's cooperative extension office is advisable to find out more about local testing options.
Residential soil testing determines a soil's nutritional makeup and pH level. Different levels of detail are available via different tests. Both nutritional makeup and pH level are critical components of healthy plant growth, whether a homeowner wishes to plant a garden or trees, or simply to lay sod. A homeowner may already have some idea of whether residential soil is sand, loam, clay or a combination. Residential soil testing gives specific details about what percentage of a given soil is which type--more critical information for healthy plant growth.
Residential soil testing should be performed a couple of months in advance of any scheduled planting. Additionally, it should be conducted every three to five years to monitor the progress of the soil, particularly if the homeowner is an avid gardener who amends the soil with organic matter on a regular basis.
Performing residential soil testing in advance of planting allows time for the test results to arrive without undue stress. It also gives a homeowner plenty of time to amend residential soil in accordance with the suggestions given by the test results. Ideally, soil should be built up with necessary amendments at least a few weeks in advance of planting.
Lead in residential soils is a concern, particularly for children and pets. Residential soil testing can identify whether unsafe levels of lead are present. Lead contamination in soil is largely due to exhaust fumes in the years prior to when unleaded gasoline became prevalent. Although such gasoline is no longer in wide use, lead unfortunately tends to stay fairly stationary in soil, with little movement. Lead levels generally regarded as safe are less than 300 parts per million (ppm).
If a safe level of lead is present in the soil and a homeowner wishes to plant vegetables and fruits, some precautions should be taken. Unless the soil is extremely saturated with lead, plants do not usually absorb it into their systems. Therefore, they are still safe to eat. Root vegetables should be peeled prior to eating if grown in such soil. Leaf crops, such as lettuces, spinach and other dark leafy greens, should be washed thoroughly. For this purpose, a solution of 1 percent vinegar or dish soap should be used with water. Vegetables should then be rinsed thoroughly before serving.