Test your soil to determine if it's suitable for plant life. ATTRIBUTION: Flickr; Jacek Becela

Test your soil to determine if it’s suitable for plant life. ATTRIBUTION: Flickr; Jacek Becela

For successful gardening, it’s critical to understand the make-up of our soil and what qualities make it suitable for optimal plant growth. Performing a soil test in your garden is an inexpensive way to learn about your soil’s composition, texture, acidity, drainage, and mineral density. There are several ways you can test your soil:

Professional Testing: Purchase a home soil kit to test your garden soil. Follow the instructions to prepare a sample and send it back to the professionals for analysis.

Do-It-Yourself Testing: Find out if your soil is acidic or alkaline without a test kit. Scoop some soil into a container and add one-half cup vinegar. If the soil fizzes or bubbles, it’s alkaline. If there is no reaction, combine one-half cup water to a new scoop of soil, followed by one-half cup baking soda. If the soil fizzes or bubbles, it’s acidic.

Soil testing can help gardeners determine if their soil has problems, needs fertilizer, and what type of plants are best for the specific type of soil. Here you’ll find a list of excellent reasons to give your garden a soil test.

1. Calculate pH Levels

The pH of your soil greatly affects its fertility and quality of plant growth. The pH scale has 14 units with 7 being neutral. Levels below 7 are considered acidic and readings above 7 are alkaline. Soil nutrients are optimal for planting when in the range of 6 to 7.

2. Discover Nutrient Content

Soil nutrients play a critical role in the fertility of the soil. Knowing the nutrient content of your soil can help you better predict the degree to which it can retain and supply nutrients to plant life.

3. Learn Type of Lime Required

Lime is used to raise soil pH to the neutral range. There are several types of lime on the market and a standard soil test can help you determine which is best for your garden. Lime is not recommended for use in gardens that have an alkaline soil. Calcitic limestone is most commonly used in gardens. Dolomitic limestone has a high magnesium content that is recommended for soils with a high magnesium deficiency.

4. Learn Quantity of Lime Required

Depending on the pH level of your soil, you can determine how much lime you need to reach a neutral level. To achieve maximum efficiency, the best time to apply lime to your garden soil is when the soil is being prepared for planting.

5. Determine Fertilizer Needs

Soil tests that help to determine fertilizer needs do so by measuring nitrate in the soil. This ensures that gardeners do not apply more fertilizer than what is needed. Using the right amount of fertilizer does not only help your plants grow, but will also save you money on fertilizer costs.

6. Check for Organic Matter

Soil organic matter (SOM) is associated with the productivity of soil. A soil test can help determine if the organic matter levels in soil are low, medium or high. Organic matter is important for soil as it helps improve its structure, infiltration, and its capacity to hold water.

7. Target Suitable Plants

Understanding your soil can help you find plants best suited for the conditions in your garden. For example, sandy soils are best suited for root vegetables, such as parsnips and carrots, while heavier clay and silt soils are excellent for growing brassicas, such as broccoli and cabbages.

8. Diagnosis Problems

Soil testing allows you to pinpoint problems in your garden, such as acidic soil or a lack of an essential nutrient. Soil testing is often used as a diagnostic tool to help identify problems to avoid a drop in crop yield.

9. Find Contaminations

Garden soil can contain potential contaminations that can make it difficult to grow plants successfully. Growing food in contaminated soil can also put your health at risk. Soils can be contaminated with lead, arsenic, and various chemicals that can seep into plants.

10. Achieve Higher Crop Yield

Soil testing can positively affect your crop yield. Testing your soil on a regular basis and fixing any problems that the test reveals can dramatically increase your crop yields and can help maintain high yields.

11. Save Money

Soil tests are easy to complete and are highly affordable. Although the initial cost of a professional soil test can be pricey, you’ll save money by only using products you know your garden needs and by increasing your crop yield year after year.