Fertilizing your lawn is an important ritual for every homeowner that takes pride in a lush, green, and healthy landscape. It gives your lawn the boost of nutrients to help it thicken up early in the season, suppress weeds, and stay green through the dog days of summer. However, there are a lot of differences in what fertilizers offer. They have different mixes in nutrients and chemicals that do different things for your yard. That’s why it’s so important to use a lawn soil test kit to know what your lawn needs and to ensure you’re amending soil with the right products (and not overdoing it and throwing money away).
If you’ve read many articles on my blog you know that I’m a huge proponent of soil tests, and test the soil in my lawn, and in my raised garden beds each spring so I know where I stand and can come up with an informed game-plan for the year ahead.
Getting a soil test is a must to make sure your lawn has all the nutrients it needs to stay strong and healthy. But more than that, fertilizers are expensive. Making sure your money goes the furthest is essential.
You don’t want to invest in fertilizers you don’t even need, when amending the pH or supplementing with the right mineral or micro nutrient could unlock your lawn’s potential.
And using too much of the wrong product can damage your lawn.
About Testing Your Lawn Soil
There are two types of lawn soil test kits:
- DIY tests that provide instant (and less accurate results), and
- professional lab-based soil testing.
Picking the test you need depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.
Best Overall Lawn Soil Test Kit
The Soil Test Kit I Use & Recommend
There are many options for testing your lawn’s soil, but I prefer a lab-based soil test that provides a detailed analysis of your soil’s nutrients and what’s needed for your lawn to thrive.
I use this one from MySoil every year.
And if you’re interested in taking the guesswork out of what to do next after you get your soil test results, consider Sunday’s subscription lawn-care plan. They test your soil for you and use local weather data to send you exactly what your lawn needs, when it needs it. It’s pretty fool-proof – you can Click Here for Your Instant Lawn Analysis and take 12% off your order with promo code LAWNCHICK2023.
Most lawn and garden stores have home test tools and kits. You can also get a pH tester for about $7 (though I’ve never had great luck with these and I’m not sure how accurate they are). A more complicated test to evaluate nutrient levels can be purchased for about $20.
Soil pH Tests
A pH test will tell you what the pH level of your soil is as well as whether it is acidic, neutral, or alkaline.
In the United States, soil tends to be more acidic. To fix acidic soil, you can add lime to your yard. Doing so is easy, and you can generally use your fertilizer spreader – either a broadcast or drop spreader – for the job. Or you could spread it by hand.
Soil Tests That Indicate Nutrient Levels
More complicated tests also assess your yard’s nutrient levels, which usually include the big three: nitrogen, phosphorous, or potassium.
But the reality is that nitrogen levels can fluctuate very widely. As a result, some tests won’t include that number in the results. It’s an essential nutrient, however, and is one of the key nutrients that makes your grass green.
The Limitations of Soil Tests Not Done in a Lab
It’s important to keep in mind that DIY or home soil tests have their limitations. You can get a highly accurate pH level reading, but home tests don’t include the buffer pH as those can only be determined in a laboratory.
The buffer pH level tells you how the soil reacts to additives. For example, whether your soil is heavy clay or sandy, and how much of the additive is necessary to change the levels revealed in your test.
The buffer pH test involves adding additives into the test soil and measuring how it responds. Sandy soil, which tends to be more acidic, requires less lime to lower its pH, whereas clay soil requires more lime to achieve the same effect.
Why I Believe in (and use) a Lab-Based Lawn Soil Test Kit
Professional lab tests offer much better specificity in their results. However, they can also be more expensive than a lawn soil test kit that will provide instant results.
A test done through a university lab, which is typically affiliated with the Cooperative Extension Service (CSREES), can cost about $20 for a single test. The cost increases if more tests are requested.
A commercial lab test can easily cost upwards of $100 or more. They have benefits in that they give you more accurate readings and will tell you what to add to your soil to balance its numbers.
These labs primarily focus on agriculture, so it’s important to make sure that the lab is experienced with testing turfgrass as well. Turfgrass requires fewer additives because grasses are more efficient at taking in nutrients.
The Lawn Soil Test Kit I Use and Recommend
Every spring I use this test kit from Amazon to get a lab test done on the soil in my lawn. At around $30 I feel it’s a fair price, because I receive detailed lab results, including the levels of all micronutrients in my soil and recommendations on what products to use to improve my lawn’s health and appearance. This is all available in a convenient online dashboard.
The lawn test kit comes in the mail, and then I dig up soil from a few locations around my property, mix it together and mail it to the lab in the provided packaging. It’s simple, convenient, and offers the best value I’ve found.
I highly recommend it and consider it the best $30 I spend on my lawn every year.
How to Test Your Lawn Soil
How you test your lawn soil will depend upon the type of test you use.
At-Home Test Kit
A DIY test kit that delivers instant results will come with several plastic vials, tablets to test the soil, and a chart to interpret results.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the most accurate results. You’ll usually need to insert the meter probe into the soil to read the results.
Send-Away Lab Test Kit
For a lab test, you’ll need to follow the instructions carefully to get accurate results. The procedure isn’t complicated, but if done incorrectly you may receive inaccurate readings. Don’t use rusty or old tools to take your readings and make sure your tools are clean so you don’t contaminate your sample.
Use clean tools to dig into the soil in at least 6 areas of your lawn about 6 to 8 inches deep. Take a ½-inch section of dirt and place it in a clean, plastic bucket.
Mix the soil in the bucket and let it dry out on a newspaper at room temperature. Once dry, place the sample in a test container and mail it into the lab to test.
My Best Tip
Take samples from different parts of your yard, including the front of the house, the sides, and the backyard. This will provide you with a generalized view of your yard, which allows you to get the best guidance when purchasing fertilizer for your lawn.
If you have different conditions in sections of your lawn, like if it borders a stream or a pond, then you’ll want to test that area separately. It will cost more to do extra tests, but the extra expense up front will usually save you money on products down the road.
Performing unique tests for different areas of your yard will allow you to get granular (pun intended) and apply specific additives to each lawn area.
In my experience (and on my property), mixing soil samples from a few locations around my property in a single lab-based kit has given me great results.
Finding the Best Test Kit for Your Lawn
There are a few test kits available in your home and garden stores, but it’s important to find a reliable test kit. Doing your research and ordering one may be your best bet. If you’re looking for a local lab, then you’ll have to check your local institutions. See if any nearby universities offer tests and make sure they do testing for turfgrass.
If you want to keep the process local, contact your county extension office. They can guide you through the process.
Different institutions can be found online and may require tests to be mailed in. These offer great accessibility for people trying to find reliable labs.
As I mentioned, this soil test kit from Amazon is what I use, and recommend. It is an online kit that gives you accurate readings with ease. Their interface provides test results in easy-to-read and understandable terms with fertilizer recommendations.
Now You Know How to Use a Lawn Soil Test Kit
Getting a soil test done is essential to knowing how to support your lawn and help it thrive.
So many homeowners throw down hundreds of dollars worth of fertilizer every year without truly knowing what their lawn needs, and understanding the makeup of your soil allows you to take a more targeted approach, get better results, and save money.
Grasses are healthiest in slightly acidic soil with a pH level between 5.5 and 6.5. A soil test lets you cater to your lawn’s specific needs to keep it strong, healthy, and something you can be proud of (and enjoy with your family).