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Test and Improve Soil

Lawn Soil

Good soil is one of the essentials of a good lawn or garden. Doing a soil test is a simple and inexpensive way to help you improve your landscape.

Importance of a Soil Test

For optimal plant growth, soil must have the proper pH level. pH is measured on a scale of 1 to 14. A measurement of 7.0 is neutral. A number below 7 is acidic (sour) and above 7 is alkaline (sweet). Soil pH signifies a plant's ability to draw nutrients from the soil.

A soil test will enable you to determine whether your soil is neutral, alkaline or acidic so you can adjust the soil to the appropriate pH level. Most plants prefer nearly neutral soil with a pH between 6.2 and 7.2. To achieve this goal, acidic soil may require the application of lime. Alkaline soil may require some sulfur.

Testing your soil allows you to:

1. Select the right plants for your garden. A pH test, for example, shows the acidity / alkalinity of your soil. You can then pick plants that will survive and thrive in your soil conditions.
2. Remedy your soil problems. Determine what key elements are missing from your soil.
3. Monitor nutrients. Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium are needed for plant growth, color and blooming.

Soil test kits are available at Lowe's Garden Centers. These kits will give you an immediate analysis of your soil's pH and nutrient levels. In addition, you can find testing meters that measure pH as well as moisture and light.

Your local Cooperative Extension office will also test your soil sample for pH and nutrient levels (some states charge a small fee). The soil analysis usually takes a few weeks to get back to you. The analysis includes detailed results and suggested amendments specific to your region.

How to Test your Soil

Home soil test kits include vials and tablets to test your soil, as well as a chart to interpret the results. With testing meters, you simply insert the meter probe into the soil and read the results. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for these home testing solutions.

To prepare a soil sample you will send off for analysis, you'll need a clean bucket, a garden trowel and a clean plastic (not metal) container.


1. Thoroughly clean the tools you are using to collect the soil sample.
2. In the planting area, dig five holes 6 to 8 inches deep.
3. Take a ½-inch slice along the side of a hole and place it in the bucket. Repeat this process for all holes.
4. Collect samples from different areas that will be growing similar plants.
5. Mix the soil in the bucket. Spread the soil on a newspaper to dry out. Collect a pint for your sample.

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.

The best time to test your soil is in the late fall or early spring. This gives you the time to make adjustments before you plant your garden, since soil corrections may take a few months to become effective.

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