Below, you will find a "Typical Soil Test Results" form. I can guarantee you that any such report that your receive from a private company or your particular state's land grant university will be different! It will be arranged differently and may contain more or less information than the form presented here.

However, there will be certain "minimum" pieces of information that you should expect on any soil test report including:

A. Crop -  Although this is term is meant primarily for agricultural purposes, it also relates to the home landscape. Most labs will have either codes or terms that show that you are growing flowering plants, trees and shrubs or lawns and whether you are growing acid loving plants such as Rhododendrons or blueberry bushes.

B. Soil Type - This will tell you if you are dealing with a primarily mineral soil or an organic one such as will be found in a peat bog. Some labs will also tell you the soil structure with terms like sandy loam or silty clay loam.

C. Soil pH - They will always give the pH number for the sample. This will be based on the use of very well-calibrated, expensive equipment and should be very, very highly reliable. It will be way more accurate than your home kit.

D. Lime Index - This is a reading that will help the lab determine how much lime or sulfur would be applied IF you need to make an adjustment in the pH. The amount of lime for instance to make a change from a pH of 5.0 to 6.5 will be quite different depending on the proportions of clay and sand in your soil.

E. Nutrients - Most general soil test results will show you the levels of phosphorus, potassium and magnesium in your soil. A bar chart is commonly used to show you whether these nutrients are in the Below Optimum i.e. deficient, Optimum or Above Optimum i.e. possibly toxic, level.

Note: Unless you ask for special tests, the report will NOT tell you the level of nitrogen. Nitrogen is a very water soluble nutrient that is used in relatively large amounts by plants and it is most likely to move quickly through the soil. Since the status of nitrogen in the soil can change much more rapidly than the other nutrients, it does not pay to routinely test for it in a backyard situation.

F. Calcium (Ca) - The level of calcium in the soil will relate to the pH level.

G. CEC - This stands for cation exchange capacity. Without getting into a lot of chemistry terms, it is the measurement of the ability of a soil to hold onto nutrients.

H. % Exchangeable Bases -This helps the lab calculate the CEC of the soil.

I. Optional Tests - If you suspect a specific micronutrient deficiency, want to know the % of organic matter or need an instantaneous nitrogen level, you can pay extra for these analyses. For instance, farmers sometimes need a quick check of the nitrogen during the summer to determine when to add more nitrogen to their corn.

J. Recommendations - After the laboratory has determined the chemical make-up of your soil, they (or a computer) will relate those numbers to the requirements of your "crop." Research has determined the nutrient needs of a bed of flowers, ornamental trees and shrubs and lawns. So, the recommendations will be tailored to fill the difference between what your plants need and what already exists in your soil.

For the home garden, the recommendations will be in terms of the amount of a nutrient that needs to be applied per 1,000 square feet of surface area in your lawn or beds and borders.

K. Comments - These will usually be little tidbits of information that will help you in determining how to apply the recommendations.

Of course, if you have further questions regarding your report, you should always go back to the company or agency that provided it for you. They often have handy little brochures that will help with the interpretation.

Related Articles: Soil pH - Acid Soils - Alkaline Soils - Lime - Soil Test

Note: We have provided some general information and observations on this topic aimed at the home gardener. Before you take any serious action in your landscape, check with your state's land grant university's Cooperative Extension Service for the most current, appropriate, localized recommendations.


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