Preparing Garden Soil

Garden Soil Tests

©2007 Jupiter Images Corporation Don't add more fertilizer to your soil than the soil test says is necessary.

Soil tests tell you the nutrient levels in your garden soil, a plant version of the nutrient guides on packaged foods. They also note pH and organic content, two factors important to overall smooth sailing from the ground up. To have your soil tested, call your local Cooperative Extension Service, often listed under federal or county government in the phone book. Ask them how to get a soil-testing kit, which contains a soil-collecting bag and instructions. Follow the directions precisely for an accurate report.

The results may come as a chart full of numbers, which can be a little intimidating at first. But if you look carefully for the following, you can begin to interpret these numbers:

  • If the percentage of organic matter is under 5 percent, the garden needs extra compost.
  • Nutrients will be listed separately, possibly in parts per million. Sometimes they are also rated as available in high, medium, or low levels. If an element or two comes in on the low side, you'll want to add a fertilizer that replaces what's lacking.
  • Soil pH refers to the acidity of the soil. Ratings below 7 are acidic soils. From 6 to 7 are slightly acidic, the most fertile pH range. Above 7 is alkaline or basic soil, which can become infertile above pH 8. Excessively acidic and alkaline soils can be treated to make them more moderate and productive.

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