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

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. 

Did you enjoy this post? MIgardener is passionate about sharing free gardening tips and information! If you are looking for inspiration in the garden, make sure to check out our Pinterest page. New ideas and inspiration can be found there at any time. Check us out at MIgardener.com or on youtubeInstagram, and Facebook.


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