Having great lawns and gardens starts with healthy soil. The best way to know if your soil has the right nutrients is to get a professional soil test. Soil testing involves taking a sample of the soil and sending it to a lab to be analyzed. The results will indicate the nutrient levels in the soil as well as any contaminants that may be present. This information will help the grower determine which fertilizers and amendments are needed to make plants thrive.
Most companies that offer a soil testing service will also have an online sample submission program. The client will receive an email when their soil test results are ready to view, download or print. The soil test will usually include a pH, which measures the alkalinity or acidity of the soil, phosphorus (P), potassium (K) and calcium (Ca). Some tests will also include sulfur (S), nitrogen (N), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), iron (Fe) and cation exchange capacity. Some laboratories will also perform a textural analysis, which will give the soil a percentage of sand, silt and clay.
Some tests best soil testing company in Colorado will detect the presence of heavy metals in the soil, such as cadmium, lead, copper, nickel, and chromium. These can harm the plant or cause health issues in humans and animals if ingested. A soil test can also determine the amount of organic matter in a soil, which helps prevent erosion and improves soil health. Other tests may look at the soil’s permeability or compaction, which can affect drainage and water retention.
Soil tests can be fairly inexpensive for small garden areas. Costs increase depending on the type of test and the number of samples needed to be analyzed. Agricultural testing and tests for septic systems or foundations will cost more than lawn and garden soil testing.
A professional soil testing company will provide a kit to the customer that will include sample bags, submission forms, mailing envelopes and sampling instructions. The kit will also contain a prepaid label and an email address that the customer can use to check for results. The kit will usually have instructions for sampling multiple locations on a property as well as recommendations for the correct levels of each nutrient.
Many homeowners purchase soil testing kits at local hardware or nursery stores. These kits typically have vials with a powder that changes color in the presence of different nutrients. The homeowner then compares the colors to a chart to determine the level of each nutrient in the soil. A few of the kits on the market also offer tests for a few other things, such as soil temperature and Haney test (which is more comprehensive than most other tests).
It is recommended that homeowners have their soil tested every three years for lawns and every year for vegetable gardens. Those with problem soil should test their soil more frequently. A good time to test is in the fall, so any necessary soil amendments can be completed before spring planting.