Testing Garden Soil in Your Vegetable Garden

Here are some useful tips to use when testing garden soil in order to gauge your growing medium and make adjustments accordingly.

| September/October 2011

Soil Sample and Subsamples

Take several subsamples from each area, then mix them and fill your containers to take to your extension office to be tested.

Melinda R. Cordell

Understanding your soil’s chemistry and fertility is paramount to successful growing, yet most folks tend to skip this step and experiment with a little fertilizer here and a little acidifier there. While the hunt-and-peck approach works, why not save yourself some time and plenty of money and effort by pulling some cores, testing garden soil, and discovering what your garden really needs in order to be great.

Not even the best of gardeners can look at the soil and say, “Whoa, we have a problem with low potassium here.” And malnourished plants can’t pull up their roots and move to a more fertile patch. That is why testing the soil every three to five years is so important. Test results give insight into the soil’s needs and offer ways to amend or enrich the soil to raise healthier plants and crops. Results from soil testing will allow you to apply the right types of fertilizers or organic material – as well as the correct amounts – needed to bring the soil back into balance.

A soil sample can be taken any time, but it’s best to do it in the fall. Soil amended in the fall has all winter to adjust, and it’s ready to go just in time for spring planting.

Get ready to sample

To start, visit your local university extension office and pick up a box or bag for the soil sample. The extension service is cost-effective and includes recommendations on the best means to amend out-of-whack soils. A private soil lab also can test your soil – just be sure it’s not affiliated with a fertilizer company.

A soil test’s results are only as good as your record keeping, so before you do anything, label your sample container(s) with indelible ink. (Do this before you take your samples, because it’s hard to write on the containers once the soil’s inside.)

Rusty tools can alter the results, so always use a clean, chrome-plated or stainless steel trowel, shovel, corer or auger. You’ll also need a clean plastic bucket in which to collect and mix the soil. Now, check the soil for moisture – the soil should crumble in the hand and not be wet.  

11/10/2011 3:43:38 PM

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