Soil testing is a fundamental step for anybody who wants to build a beautiful garden. It provides incredibly important details regarding your garden — details that can then be used to make your garden more optimal for plant growth. There are two primary types of soil tests you can perform.
There are laboratory tests and DIY tests. The goal in this piece is to go over both types of tests so that you can choose whichever one best suits your interests.
A laboratory test entails collecting soil samples and then sending them to an accredited laboratory. It is the more expensive option, but it is also the more comprehensive one as well. You end up receiving a detailed report that highlights every precise detail about your garden, i.e., its composition, its pH level, its temperature, its type, its texture, etc.
Laboratory soil tests also usually come with in-depth recommendations from trained agronomists. These recommendations list the best fertilizers to use. They also pinpoint which specific types of organic matter would most help your garden grow.
To conduct a professional soil test, follow the steps below:
- Obtain a soil-testing kit from a local laboratory.
- Collect the appropriate soil samples.
- Mail the samples back to the lab with any required information.
It may take several weeks for the laboratory you choose to process the results. You will eventually receive a report.
If you need help finding a laboratory in your area, try contacting a cooperative extension office.
There are many DIY tests from which you may choose. Some cost nothing, while others require a small investment. Just keep in mind that they can’t compare to a laboratory test when it comes to quality.
Many gardening stores sell DIY soil-testing kits that range from $5 to $30. These include pH meters, pH soil testers and full-fledged soil-testing kits. Their results tend to be only minimally accurate, but they’re cheap and easy to obtain.
If you decide to go with this method, just make sure you closely follow the instructions provided. Even one mistake can mar the process and thus invalidate the final results. Note also that different tests come with different instructions.
There are a slew of amateur, ‘homemade’ tests that you may also perform. They cost absolutely nothing, but they also provide a minimal quantity of data.
- The crumble test involves squeezing soil in your hand and then observing its reaction. It can help you identify the type of soil.
- The drainage test involves filling a hole with water and then timing how long it takes to drain. It can help you identify the soil composition.
- The worm test involves counting the number of worms within a set quantity of soil. It can help you identify the quantity of organic matter in your soil.
- The tomato test involves comparing growing tomatoes with a chart of characteristics. It can help you identify missing nutrients.
There are many other tests you can perform.
The type of soil test you ought to choose really depends on your goals. Most people just want to grow a few vegetables and/or flowers for fun. They only need a home testing kit, if even that. Many would be fine just performing a homemade test.
If instead you want to grow food for long-term consumption and/or retail sales, then it would be in your best interest to learn everything you can about your garden. The results can be confusing at first, but learning to understand them could make a big difference in your gardening efforts.