How to Test Soil Quality


A soil test measures the quality of soil, which includes soil structure, nutrient content and pH. Soil structure is a measure of the ratio of sand, loam and clay in soil. These three components determine how well water can move through soil. The nutrient content includes the amount of nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous and micronutrients available in soil. The pH is a measure of acidity and alkaline content in soils. A neutral pH ensures that most plants can take up nutrients and water in soil efficiently. A soil test can help you to adjust your soil before planting.

Step 1

Wash a shovel or metal spoon thoroughly before taking a soil sample to avoid contaminating the location of the soil sample.

Step 2

Remove 3 inches of topsoil and place it in a plastic bucket.

Step 3

Collect 3 inches of topsoil from up to 10 more locations across the area you want to test.

Step 4

Mix the soil thoroughly in the plastic bucket and remove any debris such as grass, roots, rocks or sticks.

Step 5

Spread a piece of newspaper out in a well-ventilated room. Spread the soil over the newspaper to dry.

Step 6

Place 1 qt. of dry soil into a 1-gallon freezer bag and seal it.

Step 7

Take the soil to a laboratory for testing. Many agricultural colleges maintain soil testing laboratories that will provide unbiased recommendations for soil improvement. Alternately, take your soil sample to your local county extension service for paperwork and send the sample off. Most test results for these labs are returned within three weeks.

Tips and Warnings

  • Many garden centers sell home testing kits. These kits are not sophisticated, and may provide inaccurate readings.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Garden hose
  • Plastic bucket
  • Newspaper
  • Plastic freezer bag


  • University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension:UNH Cooperative Extension Soil Testing Program
  • University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension: Soil Testing
  • Washington State University Extension: Soil Testing

Who Can Help

  • Iowa State Univeristy Extension: Interpretation of Soil Test Results
Keywords: testing soil, soil sampling, garden projects

About this Author

Tracy S. Morris has been a freelance writer since 2000. She has published two novels and numerous online articles. Her work has appeared in national magazines and newspapers, including "Ferrets," "CatFancy," "Lexington Herald Leader" and "The Tulsa World."