How to Interpret a Horticultural Soil Test


An important step in growing and maintaining a successful garden or lawn is to have the soil tested every one to two years. The results of the soil test include recommendations for nutrient, pH and organic matter amendments along with the best type of fertilizer for the type of plant grown in the area. It is best to take 10 to 12 samples randomly through the garden or lawn to get an accurate average reading from the area.

Step 1

Read the soil test results and make notes as to the adjustments and recommendations from the testing facility.

Step 2

Verify the soil pH is at an acceptable rate for the type of planting growing. A pH measurement is on a scale of 0 to 14 with 7.0 being neutral, under 7.0 acidic and over 7.0 alkaline. A high alkaline soil might also have a high salt content.

Step 3

Check the organic matter percentage to evaluate whether you need to amend the soil. Organic matter provides nutrients, drainage and nitrogen to plants. Soil with a result of 5 to 6 percent organic matter is ideal.

Step 4

Evaluate the soil texture listed in the results to see whether you have a course, medium or fine soil. The texture correlates to the soil type of sand, clay or loam. Follow the recommendations for soil amendments, if needed.

Step 5

Evaluate the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the soil as this will indicate the best type of fertilizer for the soil. The results include the amount of minor nutrients such as iron, copper, manganese and zinc. Follow the fertilizer recommendations for best results in the garden or lawn.

Step 6

Contact your county University Extension office with specific questions you have on the test results or recommendations listed.


  • Prince Edward Island Department of Agriculture: How To Interpret Your Soil Test Report
  • Ohio State University: Interpreting a Soil Test for Lawns
  • University of Minnesota: Understanding Your Soil Test Report
Keywords: test garden soil, soil test results, read soil test

About this Author

Jennifer Loucks has been writing since 1998. She previously worked as a technical writer for a software development company, creating software documentation, help documents and training curriculum. She now writes hobby-based articles on cooking, gardening, sewing and running. Loucks also trains for full marathons, half-marathons and shorter distance running. She holds a Bachelor of Science in animal science and business from University of Wisconsin-River Falls.