How to Test Surface Soils


Test your surface soil simply with soil tests available at most garden centers, home improvement stores or nurseries. Many local cooperative extension offices provide surface soil testing for free. Quickly find out what amendments your soil requires to increase its health when you utilize one of these surface soil testing methods.

Step 1

Shovel topsoil samples from four separate areas of your garden into a clean bucket. Remove only about 1/4 cup of soil from each area and dig up only the top soil layer to accurately test the surface soil. Use a chrome-plated or stainless steel shovel as other types of shovels may contain zinc or copper, which can contaminate the soil samples.

Step 2

Mix the surface soil samples thoroughly in the bucket with the shovel's tip.

Step 3

Follow the specific directions provided with your purchased home soil test. Most provide test tubes to which you will add a small amount of soil, a test powder, and then you will fill the tube with water. Let the tubes sit as long as the test instructions specify. View each test tube's color and compare it to the chart provided with the test to determine the levels of nitrogen, pH, phosphorus and potassium in your surface soil.

Step 4

Contact your local cooperative extension office, if it provides testing, to find out what guidelines you must follow to have your soil tested. Transport the surface soil samples to the extension office after you have verified and followed its guidelines.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Bucket
  • Soil test


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

Who Can Help

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

About this Author

Sommer Sharon has worked in the publishing industry since 1997 for nationally known publications such as "Better Homes and Gardens," "Ladies' Home Journal," "MORE," "Country Home," "Midwest Living" and "American Baby." Sharon also owns a Web consulting business and writes for several Internet publications. She has a Bachelor of Science in information technology and Web management from the University of Phoenix.