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How to Test for Soil Toxicity

shovel image by Gudellaphoto from

Before you ever stick your shovel into the dirt to begin a gardening project, you should test your soil. A soil test can not only reveal the soil’s structure, nutrient level and pH, but also any toxicity that exists in the soil that can damage your plants. Soil toxicity can be caused by oil leaks from cars or industrial machinery, as well as proximity to industrial locations (such as factories) or even sodium from the ocean. Gardeners who discover soil toxicity might consider raised-bed gardening as an alternative to gardening in toxic soil.

Choose up to 10 locations to take a soil sample from.

Dig a quart of soil from the surface of each location.

Place the soil in a plastic bucket.

Mix the samples thoroughly and remove debris such as sticks, rocks and roots.

Spread out a piece of newspaper in a warm, dry location.

Place the soil onto the newspaper and allow it to dry.

Put a cup of soil into a plastic freezer bag.

Take the soil to a soil testing laboratory for testing (see Tips section).

Test The Ground & Soil

Contact your local county agricultural extension office, and ask for information on soil testing. Obtain instructions on how to collect a sample as well as where to send the soil sample for testing. A lawn will have different nutrient requirements and a flowerbed still another. Therefore, a soil test taken from each area is the best way to find out what nutrients are needed in each location. Allow the soil to dry for two days, and place it in either a container supplied by your local county extension office or in a sealed plastic container labeled with the planting area. Fill out the soil testing paperwork. Your testing results, along with the recommended application amounts of each nutrient lacking in your soil, will arrive in a few weeks.


Most agricultural colleges maintain soil testing facilities in conjunction with their community and continuing education programs. Take your soil sample to your nearest County Extension Office to submit the sample for testing in these labs. Soil tests typically cost a small amount, and soil test results are returned within 3 weeks.

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