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How to Test Your Own Soil

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How to Test Your Own Soil

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Overview

It's important when gardening or landscaping that you know the pH of your soil, to better choose what plants to use or to know what type of soil amendment your soil needs. You can send soil away for testing by your state or county agricultural extension agency in many cases, but you also can do a home version of the test yourself with some supplies from a home and garden store.

Step 1

Dig a small hole with a hand trowel to take your soil sample. For a good testing, get to soil that is not the top layer. In fields, dig down 8 inches; in gardens, dig down 6 to 8 eight inches, and in lawns, dig to 3 inches below the turf. If you have a soil probe that takes soil cores, it would be a good alternative.

Step 2

Pour distilled or spring water into the hole. Rainwater, tap water and even bottled water aren't as good for soil testing, because they are not guaranteed to have a neutral pH. You can find distilled water at pharmacies.

Step 3

Scoop out a mixture of soil and water into a small container. It can be a jar, bowl, bottle or whatever is handy to use. (If you used a soil probe, simply add the distilled water to the core in the container.)

Step 4

Mix the soil and water well, so that the mud is a uniform consistency. Add more water if needed to make it liquid rather than sludgy. Take a dropper full of the water and soil, and drop a small drop onto a litmus paper strip or soil-testing pH paper strip.

Step 5

Check the color of the paper where you placed the drop. Litmus tests are simply red and blue; red means acidic and blue means alkaline. If you are using a soil testing kit, refer to the included pH color guide; usually red and yellow shades are acidic, while blue and green are neutral to alkaline.

Things You'll Need

  • Garden trowel or soil probe
  • Distilled water
  • Small container
  • Small medicine dropper
  • Litmus paper or soil-testing kit

References

  • Michigan State University Extension: Soil Testing
  • Organic Gardening.net: Soil Testing
Keywords: soil pH, soil testing, pH testing

About this Author

Kim Hoyum is a Michigan-based freelance writer. She has been a proofreader, writer, reporter and editor at monthly, weekly and daily publications for five years. She has a Bachelor of Science in writing and minor in journalism from Northern Michigan University.