How to Test Soil Types

Overview

The type of soil where you plant affects plant growth rate and health. Well-balanced soil is important in producing plants with thick, lush foliage, large, bright blooms and plentiful, healthy fruits. Soil that promotes strong, healthy plants has good structure and texture, the proper pH level, and the proper nutrients. It isn't difficult to test soil for the proper types and conditions so you can amend any imbalances.

Testing Soil pH

Step 1

Scrape away any surface litter from the soil and dig a small hole about 6 inches deep, placing the dug-up soil in a bucket.

Step 2

Repeat this process at different locations in your garden until you have about twenty dirt samples, then mix them together in the bucket.

Step 3

Remove about one pint of soil to be tested.

Step 4

Test soil pH with a home testing kit or send in a soil sample to your local, county or state agricultural agency. Most plants like a soil acidity that falls within the mid-range, about 7.0, although some prefer soil that is more acid or more alkaline.

Step 5

Amend unbalanced soil with compost. Finished compost is slightly acidic, and when added to a slightly alkaline soil, balances the pH towards neutral. Compost also increases the plants' tolerance to pH, so they can tolerate a broader pH range of 6 to 8. If you send your sample in to your county extension service for testing, recommendations for fertilizers and soil amendments may be included with your results.

Testing Soil Structure and Texture

Step 1

Inspect soil visually, looking for a granular structure that forms loose clumps when compacted. Soils that are too loose do not hold together and nutrients leach out quickly, while soils that form dense clods do not allow plant roots to get a good hold.

Step 2

Squeeze soil samples from several different areas of the garden between your index finger and thumb. A sandy, gritty texture indicates a high sand content, while a slippery texture indicates the presence of large amounts of clay, and high silt content is indicated by a greasy texture. Plants derive the majority of their nutrients and minerals from the soil. Soil texture effects plant fertility, air circulation and water-retaining abilities of the soil. An ideal garden soil is a loam, which allows good drainage and root growth, yet retains adequate moisture and is rich in nutrients. A soil with equal portions of sand and clay, with lots of organic material, or humus, mixed in provides the proper growing conditions.

Step 3

Add organic matter to improve the soil structure. A good source of organic matter is compost, but adding organic material directly is also effective: grass clippings, shredded leaves or kitchen waste such as coffee grounds or eggshells. Add 1 to 2 inches of compost to the soil (or 2 to 4 inches of straw and other organic matter), to enhance soil texture and structure, and build up soil nutrients.

Things You'll Need

  • Garden soil
  • Home soil pH test kit (optional)
  • Shovel
  • Bucket
  • Compost or organic material

References

  • "Soil pH/Soil Acidity". Improve-Your-Garden-Soil.
  • "Components and Uses of Fertilizers in the Garden". The Garden Helper. September 12, 1999.
  • "pH factor". rancho mondo compost manual.
Keywords: Garden Soil, Soil pH, Soil structure, Soil texture

About this Author

Kaye Lynne Booth has been writing for 13 years. She is currently working on a children's, series and has short stories and poetry published on authspot.com; Quazen.com; Stastic Motion Online. She is a contributing writer for eHow.com, Gardener Guidlines, Today.com and Examiner.com. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology with a minor in Computer Science from Adam’s State College