I partnered with MySoil to bring you this blogpost about when and how to test your soil.
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. See my disclosure policy for more information.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d been gardening for 12 years before I had my soil tested. In previous years I considered testing my soil, but when I looked into how to test your soil, it seemed complicated and expensive.
The more I gardened, however, I wanted to know (not guess!) what was going on in my soil. I first saw the MySoil Test Kits on Instagram and thought they looked simple and inexpensive enough to try soil testing.
I sent my first test kit to MySoil in 2020, and I’ve used them to test my soil ever since. The soil testing process is simple and quick. I get my results back within a few days with recommendations about what my soil needs.
Now, I test my soil at the beginning of our growing seasons (early spring and fall) and give my soil what it actually needs rather than what I think it needs.
When to Test Your Soil
We ask a lot of our garden soil. Plants need to sprout, grow, and produce a harvest within a few weeks or months. “A healthy garden starts with healthy soil.” Testing your soil takes the guesswork out of what your soil needs.
Plants may give you signs that nutrient levels are not ideal, including:
- Purple leaves are likely due to a phosphorus deficiency.
- Yellow leaves with green veining may mean a lack of iron.
- Green leaves with yellow centers can mean many things, including a lack of nitrogen.
Good times to test your soil include:
- At the beginning of each season.
- Mid-season to check on nutrient levels before fertilizing.
- If your garden is not performing well.
A soil test will confirm your suspicions and/or give you a clearer picture of what exactly is happening with your soil. Armed with this information, you can successfully treat the “root of the problem,” not just the symptoms.
How to Test Your Soil in 5 Simple Steps
1. Decide how many kits you need and order them
If the same soils are used across your garden with similar management, then you may just need one kit.
If you have different soils (in-ground vs. raised beds, fruit trees, etc.) or different ages of soils (older vs. newer areas), you may need to split each area into its own testing zone.
For example, my garden has three different sections of raised beds that were added at three different times and a large in-ground area. As such, I use four kits for my garden.
2. Collect and mail the soil sample(s)
Complete the process of collecting samples separately for each testing area. If you are testing more than one area, label the registration form, so you know which test goes with which area.
- Pull soil from 5-7 different spots/locations to a depth of 6 inches. I dump the soil samples into the box, then close the lid and shake it to mix it up. Remove large pieces of bark or mulch.
- Fill the included scoop (level) with the thoroughly-mixed sample.
- Dump the filled scoop into the sample jar with the water and nutrient-absorbing capsule.
- Tighten the lid and put the filled jar in the provided prepaid mailing envelope.
- Seal the prepaid envelope and drop it off at the post office.
3. Register your kit(s) and create account
Once you send off your kit, use the registration forms to register the kit(s) at mysoiltesting.com. Use the portal to track your test.
Check your email for a notification that your test is ready (mine went to spam, so check spam if you don’t see it within a few days). Sign in to your customer portal and view your report(s) in your dashboard.
4. Review the test results
Each report includes a bar graph with a quick view of your results.
The report shows if any of the nutrients in your soil are either within, below, or above the optimal range. There are results for the soil nutrient availability, pH, and the macro and micronutrients.
The next time you test your soil, you can compare the results to the previous test to see how your soil is improving/changing over time.
5. Follow the fertilizer, pH, and micronutrient recommendations
In addition to your results, the report will show the recommended actions to take to improve your soil’s nutrient level or pH level. You can see the products they recommend along with application rates.
Plants need several nutrients to grow well. These nutrients are normally divided into two groups: macronutrients and micronutrients.
The macronutrients needed by plants are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur.
Some common micronutrients needed by plants are boron, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc. Micronutrients are just as important as macronutrients, just needed in smaller amounts.
With your report in hand, you can make informed decisions about which amendments to add and how much to use. It’s best to work recommended products into the soil before planting.