Guff: Garden Soil Tests

In No Guff Vegetable Gardening, we tell readers that in most cases there is no need to worry about soil tests, which do little for the average home gardener.


Here’s what we say about soil tests in the book No Guff Vegetable Gardening:

Maybe there’s one in your family, the hypochondriac forever afflicted by—or seeking—some sort of health ailment and popping an endless stream of prescriptions.

Here’s our prescription: don’t be a soil hypochondriac. Skip the laboratory soil test.

Why do we say this?

  • A meaningful test is based on a good sample. Soil is often highly disturbed in home gardens, meaning the soil in one bed could be entirely different from the soil in the next bed.
  • Striving for optimal nutrient values in the soil is an act of perfectionism—and a waste of time. You’ll know your soil best by growing crops in it. A printout showing numbers and percentages does little for the average gardener.

The best test of your soil is to grow a garden. Grow one—and tend it well—for two or three seasons. If it’s reasonably productive, keep gardening.

After this “dating period,” if you are not getting good results, consider a test.

When do we think an immediate laboratory soil test makes sense?

If you’re gardening on what was formerly industrial land and are worried about industrial contaminants in the soil, a laboratory test is a good idea.