Why Is Soil Testing So Important?

The right amount of nutrients in your garden soil will determine your yield. Adding too much fertilizer and compost will contaminate and result in your plants and flowers not reaching their potential. The process comes down to knowing what your soil is missing and adding nutrients. 

Soil testing is one of the most critical steps that can help increase your plants’ productivity and yield. Soil testing provides you with answers on how much fertilizer you should use. The results will help you determine the proper amount of nutrients for optimal growth.

Excessive fertilizer will result in unhealthy plants. The whole length of your garden will have varying levels of nutrients. Do not depend on someone else’s recommendation or best guess your soil needs.

Soil test Options:

Compaction test, Color test, feel test or Squeeze test, and pH test. Each test looks for specific ingredients to encourage or discourage your desired yield. Below will go into depth on each testing method.

Compaction test:

As the name suggests, the test is meant to test how compact the soil is in any given test area. You can insert it vertically into the ground with a wire hanger that has been straight or any thin straight of wire. The sooner the wire stops penetrating, the more compact the soil is. The ideal condition for root growth and development is a foot or more wire easily penetrating the soil. The less compact soil will also encourage the deep penetration of water and earthworms.

Color test:

The soil color does provide a visual indication of the soil nutrient and health of the soil. The dark the soil, the high likelihood of the soil being of high-quality and fertile. Darker soils indicate that the soil has the presence of decaying microorganisms.

Pale and Yellow soil means reduced organic matter and poor drainage. The low nutrient content of the soil lends itself to poor yield overall. Red soil shows good drainage but also extensive weathering that drains the soil nutrients. To regain the nutrient, adding fertilizers is needed to restore the depleted soil nutrient. 

pH test.

Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are primary micronutrients because plants use more than other nutrients.  Soil reaction (pH) is soil’s degree of acidity or alkalinity. It is a measure of the concentration of hydrogen ions(H+). Where the amounts of hydrogen and hydroxyl ions(OH-) are equal, the pH is 7.

A pH of less than 7 is acid and has more hydrogen than hydroxyl ions. A pH greater than 7 is alkaline and has less hydrogen than hydroxyl ions. 

Most garden and landscape plants and flowers grow best in soils with a pH range of 5.5 to 7.0, the range where most nutrients have optimum availability.

Extremely acidic< 4.5
Strongly acidic4.5 – 5.5
Moderately acidic5.6 – 6.0
Slightly acidic6.1 – 6.5
Neutral 6.6 – 7.3
Mildly alkaline7.4 – 7.8
Moderately alkaline7.9 – 8.4
Strongly alkaline> 8.5

Soil test allows us to learn the soil’s pH. This component of soil chemistry may interfere with how nutrients are made available to plants. 

To have good, healthy, productive plants, you must start with fertile and healthy soil. Good soil retains water, releases nutrients, and drains well. It must contain adequate nutrients, optimum pH, and organic matter to be healthy and fertile.

Guessing about additives for your lawn or garden usually means too little or too much fertilizer gets added.

Too little fertilizer may result in unhealthy plants too much can threaten our lakes and wetlands. Also, soils vary within the state, your neighborhood, and even your yard. What may be suitable for your neighbor’s or brother’s lawn or garden may not be ideal for yours.

You do have two pH testing options for your soil. The two options are a commercial soil test and a homemade test.

Commercial soil testing:

Any attempt to change the soil chemical properties of soil must begin with a soil test. The soil test analysis will provide a basis for adding nutrients and modifying pH, as well as help to avoid adding excessive nutrients.

Any state-certified soil-testing facility can test your soils.  A few examples of sites that can do soil tests include universities like the University of Wisconsin, Cornell, and the University of Minnesota have soil testing laboratories. Having your soil tested by the site may start at $3 to extensive tests that can cost up to $80. 

The soil test facilities measure the following components:

Phosphorus and potassium


Lime requirement

Organic matter

Texture estimate.

I recommend testing your soil before applying fertilizer. Proper interpretation of soil test results depends upon collecting a representative sample of the soil. Soil samples can be taken any time of the year, although spring and fall sampling is usually the most convenient.

Check out this blog post on how to identify if your soil needs fertilizer.

Separate samples should be collected from areas that differ in soil texture, soil color, the kinds of plants previously grown, and previous applications of fertilizers, organic amendments, and lime.

Soil samples are collected using a soil tube, soil auger, garden towel, or spade. Remove all surface vegetation or litter and take the sample to the desired depth.

Standardized sampling depths are as follows:

  1. Sample garden soils and soils to be used for establishing a lawn or turf to a depth of six inches.
  2. Sample established turfgrass to a depth of three inches
  3. For trees, shrubs, and perennial fruits, sample to a depth of 12 inches.

Each soil sample should be a composite of subsamples collected from randomly selected spots within the chosen area. 

Take 5 to 10 subsamples for relatively small areas( less than 1000 square feet) in home lawns, flower borders, and gardens.

The soil test report will provide information about pH and lime requirements and fertilizer recommendations for nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. A soil test value for phosphorous and potassium is an index of the nutrient availability to plants in the soil being tested.

DIY Soil test.

The second option in testing your soil involves using readily available supplies. Fortunately, you can test your garden soil pH without a soil test kit for a fraction of the price.

  1. Collect 1 cup of soil from different parts of your garden and put two spoonfuls into separate containers. Add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the soil. If it fizzes, you have alkaline soil with a pH between 7 and 8.
  1. Collect a cup of soil from different parts of the garden or a potted plant. Add ½ cup of white vinegar to the soil. If it fizzes, you have teaspoons of soil that are muddy. Add 1/2 cup baking soda. If it fizzes, you have acidic soil, most likely with a pH between 5 and 6.

        If your soil doesn’t react at all, it is neutral with a pH of 7, and you should consider the soil to have balanced pH.

While soil samples can be taken at any time of the year, it is recommended to have the test done in spring and fall. Testing should be done at the same time each year.

Check out this related post:

How do you know if your soil is nutrient deficient?

Ginny Orenge

Hi, my name is Ginny, home and garden decor ideas is a family business specializing in inspiring you in getting in making your own craft at home. I have also loved creating my own art at home. I hope to share my tips in creating both home and garden decorations that you can be proud off.

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