Garden soil is scooped into a plastic bag with a trowel.
Image by Healthy Soils, Healthy Communities

Check with the soil testing lab for specific sampling instructions.

Wood-framed raised beds growing a variety of produce, with mulched pathways and a building nearby.
Image by Perl Egendorf

Healthy gardening practices can address concerns about soil quality.

Compost pile in New York City.
Image by Perl Egendorf

Composting keeps organic materials out of landfills and provides vital garden nutrients.

Choose vegetables that are a good match for your garden area and soil conditions.

green tomatoes growing in a garden
Image by Jenn Lerner

Healthy vegetables

Healthy Soils

What is Soil?

Soil, essential to life, brings together the geology, hydrology, biology and atmosphere of our planet. Our environment, clean fresh water, the plants and the animals around us, most of our infrastructure and our very existence is dependent on healthy soils. It will serve us well to understand how and why soils do what they do. Cornell Cooperative Extension is your resource for soil information, research and educational opportunities.

The Big Three: Soil is a dynamic and complex environment, but if you know the texture, soil organic matter and the pH you are well positioned to manage your soil.

  • Texture: the fine particles (<2mm) that are the active matrix of our soils. For a quick and fun method to determine soil texture view our hand texturing video.
  • Soil Organic matter : the soil fraction that comes from the breakdown of living materials and feeds our soils
  • pH: the primary driver for nutrient availability

If you want to learn more about the Big Three or other soil information here are some great resources:

Why Test Soil?

A healthy soil supports all life on this planet. Whether your goal is plant productivity, contaminant management, a healthy environment or all of the above, soil testing can provide information to help. Some important considerations:

  • Keep your questions, goals, and budget in mind.
  • Talk with your local Extension educator!
  • It’s best to have more than one soil sample. Soil properties can be very different across a site, or even in a small area.
  • Composite (or combined) samples are often a useful way to sample a larger area.
  • Soil testing FAQs from Healthy Soils, Healthy Communities provide more information.

A soil test can tell you what nutrients are in your soil, the state of its health or even if you have contaminants harmful to humans, plants or the environment. Together with healthy gardening practices, testing can lead to better management as well as safe and productive soils.

Soils can also contain lead or other chemicals that can be harmful to people or plants. Together with healthy gardening practices , testing for contaminants like heavy metals can help you determine the best layout and management plan for your garden.

How to Test Soil: Soil Nutrient Testing Videos

Talk with your local Extension educator or go directly to DairyOne for more information.

Soil Health Testing:

The Cornell Soil Health Laboratory provides a comprehensive assessment of soil health (CASH) as a method to assess the capacity of your soil to sustain productivity and environmental quality as well as promote plant, animal and human health. Visit the lab for complete information and assistance .


Holly Wise
Consumer Horticulture Educator, Plant Science Educator
(315) 736-3394 x125

Last updated October 27, 2021