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Testing your Soil:


Option 1: Test it yourself:

The website,, has an article "Four Easy Do-It-Yourself Soil Tests" that features simple ways to test your own soil, 3 of which are free and 1 that is very inexpensive.

  1. The Squeeze Test: "One of the most basic characteristics of soil is its composition. In general, soils are classified as clay soils, sandy soils, or loamy soils. Clay is nutrient rich, but slow draining. Sand is quick draining, but has trouble retaining nutrients and moisture. Loam is generally considered to be ideal soil because it retains moisture and nutrients but doesn’t stay soggy."  (Materials needed: Your hands.

  2. The Percolation Test: "It is also important to determine whether you have drainage problems or not. Some plants, such as certain culinary herbs, will eventually die if their roots stay too wet." (Materials needed: A small shovel or your hands.)

  3. The Worm Test: "Worms are great indicators of the overall health of your soil, especially in terms of biological activity. If you have earthworms, chances are that you also have all of the beneficial microbes and bacteria that make for healthy soil and strong plants." (Materials needed: Perhaps a thermometer to make sure the soil is at least 55 degrees, a small shovel or your hands, a small piece of tarp or cardboard)

  4. The pH Test: "The pH (acidity level) of your soil has a large part to do with how well your plants grow. pH is tested on a scale of zero to fourteen, with zero being very acidic and fourteen being very alkaline. Most plants grow best in soil with a fairly neutral pH, between six and seven. When the pH level is lower than five or higher than eight, plants just won’t grow as well as they should." (Materials needed: A pH test kit that can be purchased from any garden center. These kits are inexpensive and fairly accurate (if you follow the instructions precisely. Once you know whether your soil pH is a problem or not, you can begin working to correct the problem.)

* If you find that you’ve done all of these tests, and amended the soil as needed to correct the issues, and your plants are still struggling along, the next step is to contact your local cooperative extension service. They will tell you how to go about collecting a soil sample and sending it into their lab for analysis (see below). Find your local Extension office.


Option 2: Send a soil sample to a professional laboratory:

  • The results are much more accurate. You will know your soil pH value within a tenth of a pH unit and your nutrient results will accurate within a few parts per million.

  • Your soil sample will be handled by a professional staff of technicians who run these types of samples every workday.

  • You will receive recommendations specific for whatever type plant you want to grow. The recommendations are based on the latest university research data base.

  • If you need further assistance, an Extension county agent can give you follow-up advice.


For more information about soil testing:

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