How to Perform a Garden Soil Test

Overview

Knowing how to perform a garden soil test ensures that your vegetables and flowers will grow well, remain healthy and produce throughout their entire growing season. Certain soil nutrients are essential for a successful garden. Likewise, knowing your garden soil's pH level provides a guideline for selecting plants that can handle the acid and alkaline in the soil. A soil test also prepares you for the kinds of soil problems you may need to address. Considering all of the benefits, performing a soil test and having it analyzed is an easy and inexpensive step to take every year before planting your garden.

Collecting the Sample

Step 1

Dig five holes about 6 to 8 inches deep in the front, back, middle and right and left sides of your garden, using the garden trowel. Depending on the garden's size, you may need to dig more holes to adequately test the planting area. Try to remove as much grass, weeds or other debris from the top of the soil before digging the holes.

Step 2

Remove a 1/2-inch slice of soil from the side of each hole and dump it in the plastic pail. Take the same amount of soil at the same depth from each of the holes. You can put the soil slices from the different holes in the same pail. The soil you collect needs to be a composite sample that represents your entire gardening area.

Step 3

Mix all of the soil in the pail, then spread it out on the newspaper.

Submitting the Sample

Step 1

Measure out one pint of the soil and place it in the 1-pint plastic container.

Step 2

Submit the soil sample to your local agricultural extension service. Contact the lab for instructions on how to submit your sample and the forms required. For a nominal fee, these institutions conduct either a lawn-and-garden test, an agronomic soil test, a horticultural test or a soil-less media test. A basic soil test analyzes several things, including soil pH, potassium (K), phosphorous (P), magnesium (Mg) and calcium (Ca). You can also request tests for zinc (Zn), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), nitrates and soluble salts if the soil in your area is known for having high or low levels of these.

Step 3

Make soil corrections according to the results of the soil test. When growing vegetables, fruits and flowers, the soil pH, which indicates the level of acid and alkaline, needs to be between 6.1 and 6.9.

Tips and Warnings

  • Fertilizers, compost, manure, mulch, lime, plant growth and harvesting affect the nutrients in your soil. A soil test conducted every year will provide the soil's current fertility status.

Things You'll Need

  • Garden trowel
  • Plastic pail
  • Newspaper
  • 1-pint plastic container

References

  • Garden Soil Testing
  • Improving Your Soil
  • Soil Test Results
Keywords: garden soil test, plant nutrients, gardening

About this Author

Maryellen Cicione is an award winning writer with more than 15 years of experience in writing and editing. With a background in journalism and corporate communications, she specializes in interviewing, researching and developing a wide range of articles. Cicione's work is published in numerous websites, magazines, newspapers and other publications.