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Where to Get Soil Tested

Updated on January 29, 2016
Jeanne Grunert profile image

Jeanne Grunert is a Virginia Master Gardener, gardening magazine columnist, and book author. She is a full-time freelance writer.


Where Can I Get Soil Tested?

Where to go to get soil tested can be confusing for new gardeners. Do you need to find a special laboratory? Does the local garden center offer soil testing? Can you use your own soil test kit and get the same results? Fortunately, you have many options to learn where to get soil tested. Each method offers advantages and disadvantages, and some are more suitable for advanced gardeners than beginning gardeners.

Where to Get Soil Tested

You have several options for getting your garden soil tested.

  • County Cooperative Extension Office: If you live in the United States, your local County Cooperative Extension agent can guide you through the proper methods of collecting soil and preparing the samples. He or she can then have the soil tested by a professional soil laboratory, usually one affiliated with the local land-grant university out of which the Extension offices are based. Typically there is a small fee associated with having your soil professionally tested, but the fee is well worth it. Not only will they test your soil, they will prepare an analysis of the pH, soil structure, macro and micro nutrients and more. You may also get recommendations for adding amendments to the soil to improve it based upon test results. This can save you a lot of time, effort and money, since the recommendations will be specifically tailored to your specific soil and gardening needs.
  • Garden Centers and Nurseries: Many garden centers and plant nurseries offer soil testing as a service for their customers. Some charge a fee for the test while others may include it as a frequent shopper benefit or as a customer benefit. Some will perform basic tests for you right at the nursery. These may include a pH test and a visual analysis of the soil construction, with recommendations made on these two factors alone. If you just want a professional opinion and some basic recommendations and don't want to test the soil yourself, this can be a good option.
  • Home Soil Testing Kits or Devices: Home soil testing kits or devices range from old-fashioned litmus paper and liquid testing kits to electronic, battery-powered testing devices that provide an almost instant reading. These are good for experienced gardeners who may be testing many areas of the garden or repeating tests, since the cost of having professional tests run for many areas can be prohibitive. It's a good idea to have any electronic soil testing devices cross-checked against a professional test. Take a soil sample in for professional testing, then use your new device in the same area of the garden. Compare the results to see if the device is off slightly, and if so, you can account for the difference in later tests.

Benefits of Soil Testing

There are many benefits to getting your soil professional tested and using the results to improve garden soil. The better the soil, the healthier, happier and more productive your plants will be. Plants rely upon soil for support, nutrients, air and water. If your soil is healthy, your plants are likely to be healthy, too.

When the soil pH is outside of the acceptable range for plant growth and development, plants cannot utilize many soil nutrients such as minerals properly. It may also make the plant more susceptible to diseases and even pests.

While adding well-rotted manure and compost to the soil will improve your soil, analyzing the soil through a soil test will save you time and money. By pinpointing exactly what you need to do such as adjust the soil pH or add more of a particular nutrient, you can focus on the recommendations and purchase just what you need to improve soil, rather than try random solutions that may or may not work. Soil testing is an important annual step to be taken before planting your garden, and one that pays off in great dividends of beautiful flowers and an abundant harvest of vegetables.

© 2013 Jeanne Grunert


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