You may have heard the phrase, “It’s better to plant a $2 tree in a $25 hole than a $25 tree in a $2 hole.” The quality of a hole--or rather, the dirt in the hole--makes a huge difference in the health of a garden. But how do you know if your soil is healthy? The same way your fifth-grade teacher knew whether or not you memorized the Declaration of Independence: a test!
Plants need nutrients, just like our bodies. While it is easy to tell what we’ve eaten in a day, it is not so easy to see what nutrients our plants are taking in through the soil. A soil test can shed light on this mystery!
After learning what nutrients your soil is lacking or what nutrients it has in excess, you can work to stabilize it so your plants grow and remain healthy. This can also prevent you from using too much fertilizer, which can run off your yard and into storm drains, polluting water with nutrients that can harm plant and aquatic life.
While there are many do-it-yourself test kits on the market, we recommend sending a soil sample to a lab to get a more accurate reading. (Learn the difference between at-home kits and lab tests.) Here is a list of regional labs--including labs in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware--that will accept your samples.
While we have provided you with a basic guide to soil sampling, be sure to check with the lab of your choice for more specific directions; procedures can vary from lab to lab.
When you get your “score” back, refer to this guide to interpret the results.