How to test the soil?

loveofmylife680(z7)September 23, 2005

Can you test your soil yourself or what do I need to do?


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At Lowes or HD, you can find do-it-yourself soil test kits for about $14.00 I believe they are for one-time use.

However, it just so happens that I was there a couple of weeks ago to buy one of those kits, when I came across a ph meter. I had recently seen Paul James, the garden guy on HGTV, demonstrate these meters (they have different kinds that measure different soil qualities) and he recommended them, so instead of buying a one-time use lab vial type test kit, I bought the ph meter for about the same cost. It is easy to use, you just insert the prong into the soil for about a minute and read the meter, just as if you were taking the soils temperature. You can repeat this any number of times in any number of places. I was surprised to find out how different my soil ph is in different areas of my yard. In fact, it varied from plant to plant within feet of each other.

I bought just the ph meter but a meter that reads ph and other mineral/nutrient content is also available.

It's a pretty neat gadget to have, especially when you are trying to adjust the soil ph or figure out if your plant needs fertilizer help and exactly what kind.

Hope this helps.....yg

    Bookmark   September 23, 2005 at 10:36AM
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You can certainly test for pH levels yourself - home tests are relatively accurate and the solution type are very inexpensive, meters more pricey. I don't recommend the DIY full soil test kits that measure nutrient content, etc. They tend to be pretty much a waste of money. If you need a full soil test, contact your local extension office. Either they will test themselves (and tell you how to correctly prepare the sample) or will recommend a lab in your area. You will get a written report assessing various nutrient and trace mineral levels, % of organic matter, etc. and recommendations on how to amend the soil for best growing condiitons. Fees are typically quite modest unless you're testing for various pathogens or chemical contamination.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2005 at 10:41AM
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Thanks for the info everyone

    Bookmark   September 23, 2005 at 10:44AM
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Stupid question probably and I know this is an old post but let's hope someone will take pity on me and lend a hand. We bought my dream home last summer and I did a lot of transplanting (from our old residence to new one - same town) and new planting due to it being pretty darn barren except for pokey yellow rooted bushes we yanked, bishops weed I tried to fight and some hostas. Yes, I have earth worms galore but my lilacs didn't budge an inch (i posted photo- new and transplanted) and my climbing hydrangea was on pause since transplant. Anywho, I'd like to find out what my soil needs (in the early spring when soil has dried out from snow & ice). Ideally I'd love to know what the needs are 1)in my general garden area (mixed flowers), my veggie & melon garden, my hydrangea area, my 3 different rose areas and my lawns (both were overgrown when we bought the home- come to find out after mowing it was to hide the more weeds than grass condition. I did find my county's soil test site but I am at a loss for which test to order and all 5 areas? The $47 one x 4 is too much but do I need the $47 one. Then I found Dr. Good Earth's soil tests but once again I'm lost at which would be best for me ( I've read way too many mixed reviews of home test kits. Help!

Here is a link that might be useful: county soil analysis price list

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 9:27PM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

A good soil test is worth the money. Unfortunately many tests don't really help the average gardener any more than a patient looking at pictures from an MRI. You need an interpretation of the results based on what you intend growing. Before you spend the money at the lab, ask to see a sample report to see if is of value to you. Al

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 9:59AM
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luis_pr(7b/8a Hurst, TX)

I asked them (USU) a few questions and got this reply from Pamela Hole, the Director of the USU Analytical Labs:

"Your friend has chosen our price list, which separates out the processing fee from the analyses fees, and seems to be pondering about the Complete test, based on the price quoted. Our Forms, which are needed to be filled out and submitted with the samples, can be found here:

For homeowners, we generally recommend the Routine test, which encompasses the 5 issues most likely to cause plant growth to be poor to non-existent. One other issue, Nitrate-Nitrogen concentration in the soil, is a much more fleeting issue, and generally by the beginning of the growing season, insufficient Nitrate-Nitrogen is left to support a season�s growth. We offer a blanket recommendation for Nitrogen, which should be applied each growing season. The Routine test includes: pH (there is a fairly wide range of "normal" suitable for most plants, however some plants such as blueberries, azaleas, or rhododendrons do much better in soils more acidic than "normal"; salinity (how salty a soil is; in Utah, we are more prone to have a problem with salinity, although it in not automatically a problem); texture (whether the soil is a sandy clay, a silty clay, or a loam, and which affects how well the soil holds water and nutrients, and is able to be worked); Phosphorus (usually the next most limiting nutrient after Nitrogen, and the middle of the three number sets on a bag of fertilizer); and Potassium (not normally a problem in Utah soils, unless the soil has been continuously cropped for many years, but is still required by plants in quantities much larger than micronutrients such as Iron or Copper).

We generally recommend looking at a whole area, and dividing it into regions to be tested based on visual differences in color of the soil, contours of the land (high areas versus low areas versus flat areas), and past amendment history (has the soil been treated the same in the past?). For homeowners newly moving into an established landscape, it would be safe to assume that the different planting areas were not treated the same, so they should be considered separately for testing.

For soil samples, it is ideal to take 4 or 5 soil "slices" or cores (depending on whether the sample is taken with a shovel or a specialized soil coring device typically available at county extension offices) from random locations within the area to be considered 1 sample, combine them in a clean container such as a bucket, mix them as well as possible, then remove 2 Cups of soil (fill HALF a quart-sized plastic resealable plastic bag, or obtain a set of bags/forms/labels from the county offices) to be analyzed, and mark the bag with the identification label that is identical to that on the form. The identification can be whatever the person submitting the sample needs to know to remember where exactly the soil was obtained. This identification will be put on the soil report, along with a number that is assigned to the sample when the sample arrives to the lab.

Here at USU Analytical Labs, we use fertilizer recommendations based on research in Utah by USU Extension staff. Recommendations are divided for the following homeowner crops as: flowers/vegetable garden, lawn, shrubs and trees, and fruit trees and perennial fruit trees and crops.

One thing that we do not test for is moisture, which many people forget is the second most required nutrient for life; air or Oxygen being number one. If your friend obtained a property that has not been watered regularly over the course of a season, that may be one reason why few plants were growing.

I hope this helps,


    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 1:02PM
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Thank you both! You're wonderful!

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 5:09PM
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