The Why & How of Testing Your Soil?





Now that most of us are watching our perennials bloom and starting to plant our annuals, we thought it might be a good time to talk soil.  Healthy soil is essential to healthy shrubs, trees, and flowers.  By testing your soil and improving on its deficiencies, you’ll notice a big difference in your landscape!

First let’s talk about why we should test our soil…

Proper pH levels in your soil are essential to healthy plants. As we learned in 7th grade earth science, pH levels are measured on a scale of one to fourteen.  A measurement of seven is neutral.  A number below seven is acidic, and a measurement above seven is alkaline. Soil pH signifies a plant's ability to draw nutrients from the soil. By testing your soil you can adjust its pH levels, and determine whether it's neutral, alkaline or acidic. Most plants prefer nearly neutral soil with a pH between six and seven.  To achieve this goal, acidic soil may require the application of lime. Alkaline soil may require some sulfur.

By testing our soil we can:

  • Select the right plants for your garden. After testing we can pick plants that will survive and thrive in your soil conditions whether more acidic or more alkaline.
  • Adjust your soil for optimal growth. Determine what key elements are missing from your soil.
  • Monitor & adjust nutrients. Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium are needed for plant growth, color and blooming.

Soil testing kits are available at most local hardware or big box.





You can use this link to contact your local Cooperative Extension office who will also test your soil sample for pH and nutrient levels. The soil analysis usually takes a few weeks to get back to you. The analysis includes detailed results and suggested adjustments specific to your region.

Now let’s talk about how to test your soil

Things you’ll need:

  • A clean plastic bucket
  • A clean shovel or trowel

   ***We emphasize clean as the test could be compromised by old dirt, debris, etc…


1. Make sure the tools you are using to collect the sample are clean.

2. In the planting area, dig five holes 6 to 8 inches deep.

3. Take a ½-inch slice along the side of each hole and place it in the bucket.

4. If you’re testing different areas, make sure each area will be growing similar plants.

5. Mix the soil in your bucket, and Spread the soil on a newspaper to dry out.

6. Once the soil is dry, collect about a pint for your sample and test away.


  • Adjustments to soil can take up to 3 months to really take effect, so the best time to test is early spring, late fall or simply before you plant your garden.
  • Wet soil can give a false test reading. Be sure to take the sample when the soil is fairly dry. You may want to check your soil more than once to verify your results.

Once you’ve tested your soil you’ll know what adjustments will need to be made.  There are many, many options available to increase or decrease the ph of your soil.  Your local nursery, big box or hardware store should carry the necessary chemical fertilizers, but if you do a bit of research you should be able to adjust the ph levels organically just as easily and probably less expensively…

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