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Skip the Soil Test Kit. Here’s What to Do Instead. (Local Tips & Reviews)

There are many at-home soil-test kits on the market, and when we began researching this story, we had hoped to find one we could recommend. Unfortunately, all of the kits we tested were complicated, messy, and, often, inaccurate. Instead, we recommend sending soil samples to a testing lab at an extension office, a university-affiliated community-service organization that’s designed to help people with all sorts of agricultural issues on a local level.

An assortment of small boxes containing soil samples on metal trays.
We think it’s best to leave soil testing to the experts at your local extension office. Here, the Rutgers soil-testing lab dries soil samples. Photo: Courtesy of Stephanie Murphy, Rutgers University

Collecting and mailing dirt from your yard to an extension office is a relatively quick process compared with the hour or more it takes to do a soil test at home. (There are mail-in soil tests you can buy, but we focused our research specifically on the tests kits you do yourself.) Compared with a DIY test’s results, an extension office’s report will not only be far more accurate but also much more thorough in terms of any issues with your soil. It will also provide more-detailed instructions on how to correct any problems based on what you’d like to grow.

The cost for an extension office soil test varies a bit from state to state. Those at the state-university–run labs we looked at ranged from free to $50, while some at private-university–run labs ran as high as $90. (The most expensive DIY kit we researched was $40.) You’ll have to wait about seven to 10 days for the results, but we think receiving a professional analysis and having information on specific next steps to take are well worth the slight delay.

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