How to Test Soils


Home gardeners often unnecessarily apply additives to their soil, causing more harm than good, according to the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service. Testing your soil is an inexpensive way to monitor nutrient composition. Conduct a soil test to determine your soil's composition and what additives you should use, if any.

Step 1

Dig up a little bit of soil, about 1/4 cup, with a shovel from four different areas of your garden. Use a stainless steel or chrome-plated shovel as other materials may contaminate the sample with copper or zinc.

Step 2

Shovel the soil samples into a clean bucket. Mix the samples with the shovel's tip.

Step 3

Purchase a home soil test, available from garden centers and nurseries. Soil test directions vary. Most provide test tubes to which you will add a pinch of soil, some water and a test powder. Let the tubes sit for predetermined amount of time to let the soil settle. Compare the test tube solution color to a chart provided to determine levels of pH, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.

Step 4

Call or email your local cooperative extension office to find out how to have your soil tested. Many extension offices test soil, often free. Find your local cooperative extension office on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website (see Resources 1). Transport the samples to the extension office, following its guidelines.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Bucket
  • Soil test


  • Harry's Garden Center: Soil Tips and Information
  • Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service: Collecting Soil Samples for Testing

Who Can Help

  • United States Department of Agriculture: Cooperative Extension System Offices
Keywords: testing soils, soil testing, soil types

About this Author

Sommer Sharon has a bachelor's degree in IT/Web management from the University of Phoenix and owns a Web consulting business. With more than 12 years of experience in the publishing industry, her work has included "Better Homes and Gardens," "Ladies' Home Journal," "MORE," "Country Home," "Midwest Living," and "American Baby." Sharon now contributes her editorial background by writing for several Internet publications.