Soil testing provides a detailed report on the state of your soil. The best soil tests also provide personalized recommendations for fertilizers and other treatments your lawn needs. If grass or garden plants are struggling to grow, a soil test may reveal that the problem is caused by too much soil acidity or lack of soil nutrients. Then, it will recommend a treatment that will improve your soil and fuel healthy plant growth. This approach saves you a lot of money and guesswork.
What is a Soil Test?
A soil test is an analysis of the soil in your lawn or garden. It is generally performed in a lab, where soil is chemically analyzed. This test will find the pH, as well as the levels of essential plant-growth nutrients.
- Soil tests are chemical and lab tests that discover unseen details about your soil.
- A soil test can find problems and deficiencies in your soil.
- Soil tests can be done at-home or soil samples can be sent to a lab for professional testing.
Soil testing may seem unnecessary at first. After all, what’s so complex about dirt? It turns out, soil is a lot more than dirt. In addition to inorganic matter, soil contains nutrients, microorganisms, moisture, and oxygen. Soil can also be so acidic that it harms some plants and causes others to thrive. You won’t know what you can grow until you have your soil tested.
What is the Best Soil Test for Your Lawn?
At-home soil testing kits sold online are not always accurate and rarely give you personalized soil improvement recommendations. For the best soil test, search for the university extension in your area. Then, follow the instructions for ordering a soil test. There are soil testing resources offered by universities in all 50 US states.
- Avoid home testing kits—they are expensive and can be unreliable.
- Soil testing offered by university extensions is accurate and affordable.
- University extensions offer soil testing in the United States.
The soil samples you send to the university extension office will be professionally tested in a lab, so you know you can trust the results. You will receive a detailed report that includes your soil pH and nutrient profile. You will also receive a guide that gives you next steps to improve your soil. Best of all, soil testing offered by university extensions is inexpensive. So, you’ll get the most for your money with this method.
5 Reasons To Get Your Soil Tested
I had my soil tested immediately after buying my new home so I could correct any problems before I started planning my lawn and gardens. Here’s why it’s essential to have your soil tested too.
Find Soil pH
Soil tests will provide you with your soil’s pH (a number between 0 and 14). A low soil pH indicates the soil is highly acidic. When soil is acidic, many plants struggle to grow, especially the grass in your lawn. Don’t worry, a university extension soil test will explain whether your soil pH is in the natural range. Usually, you can apply lime to your lawn to reduce soil acidity.
Over time, soil has a tendency to become more acidic due to leaching and runoff. So, even once-healthy soil needs regular soil tests to make sure the acidity is not hindering plant growth. This is one reason why it’s essential to have your soil tested every three to four years.
Identify Nutrient Deficiencies
There are 14 soil nutrients that are crucial to healthy plant growth. By performing a soil test, you will find the levels of each of these nutrients. Any deficiencies will be noted, along with what you need to do to boost these nutrients into the soil.
Getting an exact read on nutrient levels is key to caring for a lawn or garden. If your tomato plants aren’t producing despite your best efforts, a soil test may reveal a lack of calcium in your garden soil. Then, you can treat your soil with the right fertilizer to boost calcium levels and get your garden booming again.
Get Personalized Recommendations
Soil tests from a university extension include something at-home testing kits do not—recommendations on how to improve your soil. In addition to finding problems with soil pH and nutrient balance, you will receive a guide to fix these problems. This eliminates the need to search for the right fix.
I consider soil recommendations the best part of the university extension soil tests I order. The advice there is backed by extensive research, so I know I’m getting expert advice. Since I’m not a soil scientist myself, it feels great to have help from the pros.
Identify Problem Areas
Many soil tests ask for samples from different parts of your yard or garden. This is excellent because soil can differ a lot in a relatively small space. If you have a garden bed or portion of your lawn that doesn’t support good plant growth, make sure the soil sample there is tested separately. It may have completely a different pH or nutrient balance than other parts of your yard.
I was shocked to find out that the soil in my front yard and backyard are completely different. The front is native topsoil, while the backyard is sandy soil added during home construction. Once I discovered this through soil testing, I was able to change my fertilizer and watering schedule so both yards thrive equally well.
Save Money on Yard Care Products
There are few feelings worse than trying to save a struggling plant with expensive fertilizers and watering systems only to see the plant wither and die. Soil tests prevent this problem. Because they pinpoint problem areas, you won’t waste time and money treating plants the wrong way. You’ll know exactly what you need to do to grow a better lawn and garden.
After following soil test recommendations, I’ve found that I spend far less on disease and weed control products. It turns out, many weeds (like dandelions) thrive in poor soil, but struggle to outcompete grass grown in healthy soil. Plus, healthy soil means healthy plants that resist fungus and blight.
Why are Soil Tests So Important?
Soil testing is important because it provides the keys that help you grow healthy grass and plants. The top reasons I recommend university-provided soil tests are:
- Identify problems with soil pH.
- Find nutrient deficiencies in your soil.
- Get detailed recommendations on how to correct pH and nutrient problems.
- Locate problem areas of your yard where the soil quality is worse.
- Save money by finding invisible problems that cause plant death and disease.
If you haven’t had your soil tested since moving into a new home, I recommend ordering a test right away. Then, once your soil is healthy, re-test every three to four years to correct issues that come up over time.