How to Test Your Soil Simply and for Free in Minutes!

1 comment by Halley -Author at MIGardener

Testing soil can be time consuming and expensive! Often as gardeners, we send in a soil sample to determine the soil's quality, what the pH is, and what nutrients can be found. This information is precious for a beginning gardener to know and can truly mean the difference between a great garden and a complete garden failure. This tutorial will look at how to find the 3 major concerns of soil; Composition (texture), pH, and Macronutrient (N-P-K) makeup. 

How to test the texture:

1. Take soil from a depth of 3-4 inches below the soil.
2. Mix enough water to become thick and tacky
3. Take the soil clump (about a tablespoon worth) and roll it back and forth between your hands.
4. Measure the ribbon:
- If the ribbon is longer than 2 inches in length, you have CLAY
- With a 1 inch ribbon, you have LOAM
- If the ribbon is less than an inch or breaks before forming a ribbon, your soil is SANDY

Clay soil: 
Pros: Good nutrients, good mineralization, dries out less frequently
Cons: Dries hard, poor root penetration, poor drainage, poor root aeration. 

Sandy soil:
Pros: Good drainage, good root aeration, good root penetration
Cons: Poor nutrient levels, dries out quickly, poor nutrient holding capabilities

Loam soil: 
Pros: Good drainage, good nutrient holding capabilities, good root aeration, good moisture-holding capabilities
Cons: lightweight soil can be blown away by hard winds and carried away by heavy rains

How to test soil pH based on texture: 

1. Based on the test above:
Sand = Acidic (5.5 - 6.9)
Clay = Alkaline (7.1 - 8.0)
Loam = Neutral (7.0)
**These are general pH ranges based on texture. For a more accurate gauge, a pH tester can be bought for less than $15

How to test soil nutrient levels based on texture:

1. Based on the first test:
      Sand = Low nutrients (Nutrients will leave sandy soil whenever it rains)
Clay = High mineralization and Nutrients (Clay binds nutrients and minerals and nutrients do not leave quickly)
Loam = Fertile with sufficient nutrients (A perfect combination of drainage, nutrients, and aeration)
**These are general assumptions of soil based on its texture. It is highly accurate for a rough estimate of soil fertility but will not be 100% accurate. 

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1 comment

  • Cindy

    Testing my soil do I have a great soil in the spring when I start planting.

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