Soil Testing is an important first step to any gardening plans. Soil tests can tell you the pH level of your soil along with what major nutrients and macronutrients your soil contains. Some tests can also tell you if your soil contains heavy metals such as lead. Soil tests completed by universities will also provide you with recommendations for amending your soil so that it can better provide for the needs of your plants.
If you have never tested your soil you may want to begin with an all encompassing test such as is available from The University of Massachusetts (UMASS). Their standard soil test provides data on pH, Extractable Nutrients (e.g. potassium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, as well as copper, zinc and manganese), Extractable Heavy Metals (including lead), Cation Exchange Capacity, and Percent Base Saturation. Recommendations for nutrient and pH adjustment are included with results.
Penn State University also offers soil testing, although their standard test kit is not as extensive as UMASS. Their soil test analyzes levels of potassium, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium in the soil as well as its pH level. They offer recommendations for soil amendments.
Standard test kit– $12
You can also purchase this test kit at The Shop at Phipps at Phipps Conservatory and The Shop in the Park at Phipps Garden Center.
For more information please contact the Penn State Cooperative Extension.
400 North Lexington Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15208
Testing for Lead
In addition to the standard soil test kit, Penn State also offers services for testing the amount of lead in your soil.
Lead soil test– $27
If lead is a concern, you can also test the amount of lead in the plants that you are growing. Fruit, leaves and other edible plant parts can be tested for lead with the standard plant analysis hits.
These kits can be purchased from the Penn State Cooperative Extension office, as listed above or from their website.
Plant tissue test – $20.oo
Read more about Lead in Residential Soils.