Orange County, California
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What types of soil testing can I do?
The proper testing of your soil can help you decide how best to treat it for maximum growing capacity for your plants, garden, lawn and more. There are a few basic tests you can do yourself to find out about the water and mineral content, PH levels, texture, and density of your soil.
Color - Color testing can tell you about about the organic material in your soil, its fertility, and the way it drains water. This is important for treating your soil for your plants and flowers to flourish. To determine your soil's color, dig down 3-4 inches so that you can look at its color when moist and not dried out. Then, compare the color to a color chart to determine what it means.
PH Levels - The PH levels in your soil are important because certain plants, vegetables and flowers in your garden or yard need specific PH levels to thrive. A PH test will help you determine where your soil's levels are. To test the PH of your soil, simply use a PH Meter on a soil sample. PH meters are readily available at gardening supply or hardware stores.
Compaction - The soil's compaction level tells you a lot about how roots will develop and how water drains into and through the soil. Healthy soil shouldn't be too compact or it won't allow roots to breathe. Also, if the soil is too dense, water will run off the surface without sinking into the roots below.
Moisture - Plants require vastly different levels of moisture. In your analysis, keep in mind your climate and what types of plants you want to grow. To estimate your soil's moisture, just look at it and feel it. Does it seem to be retaining water? A more precise method would be to take it to a lab for analysis.
Soil testing is used to determine the fertility of soil. It is also used to establish whether specific fertilizers should be used or nutrients added.
Agricultural soil testing is complicated. A sample is taken to a lab and assessed on a variety of factors. These might include potassium and phosphorus levels. Tests are often done to assure that soil is not contaminated. In some cases, nearby water may also be tested, both for contaminants and to ensure fertilizers are not being lost as runoff. Laboratory analysis is done to a high level of detail. The amount of money involved can be significant, and the benefits to agriculture are obvious.
In gardens and yards, simple tests are often done. For example, a PH meter may be used. Determining soil PH and correcting it can be vital for growing certain flowers and vegetables. In many cases, a PH meter can simply be purchased at a garden center or farmer's store and used by the home owner. Soil test kits can also be purchased. These can test for things other than PH, most commonly the soil's nutrient content.
Once testing is done, soil can be remediated. This might mean altering moisture or PH levels. It might mean adding organic material or tilling the soil to aerate it. A soil tester may also classify soil by various methods. Testing a garden may also help decide which of various varieties to plant and what kind of flowers might grow best. Lawns also have specific soil requirements. Analysis of water and soil is also used to determine whether an industrial site or a development is causing environmental problems and for other conservation concerns.