Garden Soil Testing Using Soil Testing Kits or a Soil Testing Lab – or Both
There are two garden soil testing methods: Using a soil testing lab, or using soil testing kits. Both soil testing methods can yield reliable results. Unfortunately, both soil testing methods can also yield unreliable results.
Learning how to test your soil isn’t difficult or terribly expensive. But the information you gain from your soil tests can be quite valuable.
Garden Soil Testing is Important…
Why do you have to test your soil? Well, you don’t absolutely have to, of course.
But it’s really a good idea.
Developing a familiarity with your soil, and knowing your garden soil pH and the nutrient levels of your soil can help you to prevent or avoid problems before they occur.
It will increase your chances of success no matter what you plan to grow in your garden.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re interested in growing blueberries in your garden. Blueberries require a very low soil pH. If your soil does not have a pH that’s in the comfort range for blueberries, your blueberry growing efforts are doomed to fail.
Your blueberry plants might cling to life for a couple of years, but they won’t be productive. And in the end, all the money and effort you invest in your blueberry plants will be wasted.
If you’ve tested your soil, and know the pH, you can either choose not to grow blueberries, or you can choose to modify your soil’s pH. But if you don’t even know your soil’s pH, you’re doomed to fail from the beginning.
Garden Soil Testing Using a Soil Testing Lab
Arguably the most accurate method of garden soil testing is to use a soil testing lab. Your extension service can recommend a soil testing lab in your area.
You’ll simply follow the soil lab’s instructions for taking and mailing your soil samples, and then usually within a couple of weeks you’ll get back your results.
One of the great advantages of using a soil test lab is that most of them will give you recommendations for modifying your soil according to what you wish to grow. So you won’t be left with just a print-out of raw data that has you scratching your head wondering what to do.
When using a lab, though, be very careful to accurately follow their instructions for gathering and handling your soil samples; failure to do so could result in badly skewed results.
Garden Soil Testing Using a Soil Test Kit
There are also a number of soil test kits on the market that you can use to test your soil yourself.
Kits of this type provide measurements for soil pH, as well as soil levels of elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and others (depending upon the kit).
When using a soil test kit of this type, you generally mix your soil samples with water and the provided chemicals (a different chemical for each element being tested). Then you compare the color of your sample solution to the color chart provided to determine the level of the element in your soil (or the pH level).
Are kits such as the Luster Leaf Rapitest accurate?
Well, that’s a point of contention.
Some swear by them, and others believe they are all but useless.
My experience with this particular kit is that it gave believable results based upon the results of previous laboratory tests performed on the same plot of ground.
If You Were to Choose Just One Soil Testing Method…
Go with the soil testing lab.
Though the accuracy of a lab’s results isn’t iron-clad certain, it’s probably more trustworthy overall than a do-it-yourself kit. And remember, most labs will give you specific recommendations for adjustments to your soil based upon what you want to grow.
But most DIY kits are fairly inexpensive, so the best option might be to do both initially.
That way you can compare the results. If the kit seems reasonably accurate, you can use it to do much of your future testing, which will save money over using a lab every time you want a check-up test.
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