What Does a Soil Test Measure?A new gardener has some options on where and how to start growing. If you have a yard, you can find a patch of land and till the soil, or you can purchase soil from your local garden center and build raised beds. Either way, you should measure the current health of your soil before you begin planting or fertilizing. But what exactly should you be looking for when you test?
Soil tests measure pH level and detect deficiencies in nutrients such as phosphorous, iron, nitrogen, and potassium. Experienced gardeners have found that most plants, including vegetables and flowers, are happier when the soil is slightly acidic (6.0 to 6.5). Some plants, like blue hydrangeas and cranberries, require an even higher level of acidity (a lower pH number). The results of your soil test will reveal the current level.
Soil Testing MethodsTesting your soil doesn’t have to be done by a professional as there are at-home methods you can try. Alternatively, you can send samples to a professional lab or to your local cooperative extension or university for more detailed results.
A soil test kit is the best way to measure nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and pH with fast results. Most kits come with color-coded containers to separate the different measurements, as well as capsules that induce a chemical reaction. It is recommended that you take samples from different areas of your yard or raised bed. Also, remove any leaves, grass, or other debris from the surface and dig about two inches below the soil to get the best sample, as the representative quality of your soil sample is going to make a difference in the accuracy of your soil test.