Soil basics: testing

1. What are you testing for?

Start with a clear picture of what you are looking to learn from testing. Are you starting a new garden and want to know what is in your soil? Are you trying to diagnose a problem? Are there concerns with contaminants at your site?

Use this garden soil sample worksheet (pdf).

2. Collect a good soil sample.

The accuracy and usefulness of results will be compromised if soil samples is not properly collected. Follow these sample collection instruction (pdf).

3. Determine soil pH.

The Cornell pH Test Kit is designed to determine the soil pH. Tests can be conducted at home or your local cooperative extension office might offer this as a service.

What is pH?  (pdf) Agronomy Fact Sheet Series

4. Determine soil texture and drainage.

Consider conducting simple tests critical for your understanding of your garden soil but not available from a lab. Instruction for ribbon test, shaker jar test and percolation test (pdf).

5. Laboratory soil tests.

Nutrient Testing with Cornell Recommendations.

Cornell University’s research-based nutrient guidelines for both soil and plant tissue (tree- and small-fruit leaf and grape petiole) are available through Agro-One Services.

Agro-One website provides more about their services, sampling instructions, submission forms (gardeners choose form H), and pick-up locations throughout the Northeast.

In addition to an analysis of your specific soil sample one of the following nutrient management factsheets will accompany your soil test report is you select the crop code LAW or MVG respectively. They will offer some value even without the specific  details of your soil analysis.

Here is an EXAMPLE of the soil test report format.

Lawns (LAW)

How Best To Fertilize Your Lawn (pdf)

How Best To Fertilize Your Lawn 856 short version (pdf)

Mixed Vegetable Gardens (MVG)

Getting the Most out of Your Vegetable Garden Soil Test Report (pdf)

Blueberry (BLB) 

Getting the Most out of Your Blueberry Soil Test Report (pdf)

Raspberry (RSP)

Getting the Most out of Your Raspberry Soil Test Report (pdf)

Strawberry (STR)

Getting the Most out of Your Strawberry Soil Test Report (pdf)

Excessive Soluble Salts

Soluble Salts in Soils and Plant Health (pdf)

Soil Testing for (some) Contaminants.

If you need to see if your soil has heavy metals or need custom analysis, this can be done through the Cornell Nutrient Analysis Laboratory (CNAL).

Healthy Soil Fact Sheets from Cornell Waste Management Institute

Sources and Impacts of Contaminants in Soils  (PDF)
Guide to Soil Testing and Interpreting Results  (PDF)
Soil Contaminants and Best Practices for Healthy Gardens (PDF)

New York Extension Disaster Education Network (NY EDEN)



VIDEO: Soil Testing for Contaminated Sites

Soil contamination is a whole other topic from normal testing for pH and nutrients. Join staff from the Department of Crop and Soil Science to discuss common contaminants, proper sampling procedures, safety measures, and best management practices.


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