One of the smartest things you can do for your garden is to get the soil tested. University extension labs or commercial labs conduct standard soil tests for about $25 to $40. This can save you money spent on plants not adapted to the soil conditions, as well as on excess fertilizer that can run off and pollute waterways. It will help you determine which plants are best suited to your garden. Most soil labs will send a soil test kit that includes sampling instructions, a sample bag and a survey form. Homeowners should be sure to fill out the survey in detail so the lab can make the most informed recommendations for their property. Although they can vary somewhat by state, a standard soil test typically will tell you:
- Soil pH
- Levels of potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and sulfur
- Organic content
- Lead contamination and what to do about it
- Recommended nutrient or soil amendments
If they’re not part of the standard test, you can request tests for levels of nitrogen and other nutrients, sodium, soil texture and other factors. There is likely to be an extra charge.