We are putting in a new lawn soon and other plant in our backyard. To prepare, we need to get the soil ready, but how do we know what our soil needs? We take a soil test.
What does a soil test actually test?
A soil test measures four important elements of your soil: the nitrogen, the phosphorus, the potassuim, and the pH. Once you know the level of each of these, you can add the right amount fertilizers and other amendments to make your soil healthy and ready to grow plants.
Get a Soil Sample
To prepare to test your soil, you’ll need a soil sample. Dig a few inches down into the dirt in the area you want to test. Our test kit allowed us to test up to 10 different samples, but start with one area. We tested the soil where our new lawn is going to be.
Testing for Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium
Place some of the dirt in a small jar, filling it to about 1/5 of the jar. Fill the rest of the jar with water and mix. Then wait. The particles of dirt will settle out, leaving the water-soluble elements in the water. You will actually be testing the water.
Letting the dirt settle in a jar also shows you what type of soil you have. Sand will settle quickly and form the first layer. Loam will settle next. And clay soil can take up to 24 hours to settle, forming the top layer. After 24 hours, look at the soil in the jar to see what your soil is mainly made of. Sand does not hold water well, and clay will hold it for a long time. Different plant prefer different types of soil, so plant according to the soil type you have.
Back to the test. Now that the soil has settled out of the water, fill the vials for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Each vial has a color-matching capsule. Empty the capsule into the vial then add some soil water with the included eye-dropper. Shake to mix in the powder from the capsule.
After 10 minutes, your results are ready. By holding the vial close to the chart, you can see how your soil did. Our soil is obviously very low in nitrogen, but medium to high in phosphorous and potassium. When we look for a lawn fertilizer, we need to find one high in nitrogen. Every fertilizer has three numbers (such as 10-10-10 or 10-4-6). Those numbers conveniently stand for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. We need to get a bag that shows 10-0-0, or something similar.
Testing the pH
The soil pH is measured a little differently. Instead of putting it in water, let the soil sample dry out for 24 hours. Then grind it down into a fine powder (with a tool, not your hands). Place a small amount in the vial, add the powder from the color coordinated capsule, and fill the rest of the vial with distilled water (You don’t want to test the pH of your tap water).
After just a minute, I compared our test results to the chart. Looks like we have a high pH, meaning an alkaline soil.
The pH tells whether your soil is acidic or alkaline. Some plants like more acidic soil, some plants like it more alkaline. It’s important to know the soil pH so you can plant the right type of plants, or change the pH of your soil to work with the plants you want. The kit conveniently came with a plant pH preference list, so I don’t even need to look it up.
Testing our soil was inexpensive and easy. Aside from waiting overnight for the soil to settle in the jar or dry out, the soil test only took a few minutes. It was definitely worth it to know what’s in our soil.
We will probably spend hundreds of dollars on plants for our yard, and now I know what our soil needs to keep those plants healthy and thriving.
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