Published On: Mon, Nov 13th, 2023

Want a healthier garden? Test your soil.

Want a healthier garden? Test your soil.
Want a healthier garden? Test your soil.

A typical test will look at organic matter, nutrient levels and the soil’s pH. Tests do not usually measure nitrogen. A soil pH that is too high (basic) or too low (acidic) means nutrients aren’t available to the plants, even if they are in the soil, says Shannon Alford, the director of the Agricultural Service and Fertilizer laboratories at Clemson University. The desired pH depends on what you’re growing and the type of soil. “Most plants grow well in a neutral pH of 6.0-7.0,” Alford says. Some plants, such as blueberries, azaleas and camellias, prefer more acidic soil.

Most soil tests don’t look for contaminants, such as lead, but some places, such as the lab at Rutgers, offer it as an additional service. This test isn’t critical if you’re growing trees or shrubs, but if you’re planting fruits and vegetables, you want to know if there is lead in the soil, says Bennett. For detailed contaminant testing, including heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium or mercury, Murphy recommends going to a certified environmental testing laboratory.

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