Soil Test Kits for a Greener Yard and Garden

soil test kits for green yard and gardenIf your plants are not performing well or you have just moved in or are planning a new vegetable plot, performing a soil test is a great idea. A soil test can identify pH, the amount of essential nutrients in your soil, and which amendments need to be added for plant health.

Note: If you live in an urban location, it is also wise to test for lead, a common soil contaminant.

Soil tests come in a few varieties, varying in overall expense, complexity, and how long it takes to the get results. Below is a list of the various types of soil test kits and the reports they provide. You should consider the degree of soil analysis you require and weigh that against the cost of the soil test kit.

  • The Hardware Store Kit: These tests typically rely on test tubes and litmus paper or electronic probes and other gadgets. They usually measure at least pH, but some also read nutrient levels. Expect to spend between $10 and $35 for these. These tests are a bit vague compared to a professional lab report, as they do not prescribe exactly how much fertilizer or lime will remedy the situation.
     
  • The Professional Analysis: Professional labs offer this option through state university extension services or private companies. They require carefully following directions for digging several soil samples and mailing them to a lab. These tests cost $5 and up, depending on how many types are ordered. Usually, it takes a couple of weeks to receive the results: reports with extensive data and recommendations. Most labs offer tests tailored to the needs of specific kinds of plants, such as flowers, vegetables or grapes.
     
  • The DIY Approach: This test is your visual analysis of what is growing in your yard, or what is missing. The preferred growing conditions of happy perennials are indicators of soil composition. Native plants and weeds, or their absence, also shed some light on the pH, moisture, and nutrients found in your yard.

Soil test kit reports

The main nutrients appearing in a typical soil test report are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Reports might also give readings for micro-nutrients such as magnesium, copper and iron. You’ll often see fertilizer with “N, P, K” listed on the bag specifying the levels of each nutrient. For example: 10-10-10 is ten percent nitrogen, ten percent phosphorus and ten percent potassium. The remaining 70 percent is filler.

The lab reports you receive back from soil testing kits will reveal what application rate is needed in pounds of fertilizer per acre, and often per 1000 square foot plot. It’s unusual for micro-nutrients to require adjustment.

soil test kit report

soil test kit report for lead content

Don't overlook soil pH

Although fertilizers feed plants, plants do not get the full benefit if the soil pH is off. This is a measure of soil acidity or alkalinity. A soil test will help to determine if an amendment of lime (to make the soil more alkaline) is needed. Most soil tests provide a chart with application rates for lime if it’s needed, but be aware that this is not a quick fix and most university extension services suggest soil testing every year.

If you would like to order a laboratory soil test a list of private and university soil test labs in states surrounding the DC metro area can be found on the University of Maryland Extension website.

 
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