How To Test Soil: For Type, pH, Moisture, Nutrients & More

How To Test Soil: For Type, pH, Moisture, Nutrients & More

 

There’s several different ways to test soil for a range of different things such as soil type, pH, moisture, nutrients, general soil fertility and more.

These tests are especially helpful to know for gardeners, farmers and others who need to use soil for a particular purpose.

In this guide, we outline the different ways to test soil.

 

Summary – 4 Different Ways To Test Soil

  • Perform a Google search of a soil map or soil profile of your country or state’s soil (to find out soil type)
  • Inspect the soil with your eyes, and compress it with your hands – with and without water added
  • Test it with a commercial soil testing kit or soil testing device you can buy from the local home/hardware, or gardening shop, or online
  • Call or contact an expert soil testing company about testing your soil. They may either to come out to your land and take samples, or send testing bags to you that you fill with soil and send them to a lab for testing

An amateur gardener might be more OK with a visual inspection, a commercial testing kit, and some advice from their local gardening shop.

A farmer on the other hand might have had advice passed down from previous farming generations, and/or got professional local soil experts in to tell them more about the soil and how to best approach amending it, maintaining it and growing in it.

 

What Sorts Of Things Can You Test Soil For?

  • Soil Type (Clay, Sand, Silt, etc.)
  • Nutrients & General Soil Fertility
  • Soil pH
  • Soil Moisture
  • Soil Light Intensity
  • Soil Salinity
  • Soil Type
  • The presence of certain minerals, metals and organic and inorganic substances (like heavy metals – lead for example)

You can also get plant tissue, water and compost manure tested by some soil testing companies. 

 

Understand The Different Types Of Soils & Their Characteristics, & Benefits & Disadvantages

Read more in this guide about the different types of soils.

 

1) Google Search Of A Soil Map, Or Soil Profile, Of Your Country, Or State/Province’s Soil

Finding a soil map or soil profile can help you find out the type of soil in a specific area or region or location.

 

Soil Map Of The World

You can find a map of the world’s soil orders and the countries they are found in at https://www.soils4teachers.org/around-the-world 

Additionally, there is a breakdown of each soil order, where that soil order might be found predominantly, and level of fertility of that soil order at https://www.adama.com/documents/130172/4752576/Infographic+Type+Of+Soils

Read in more depth about the different soil orders at:

  • https://soilsmatter.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/the-soil-orders-simplified/ 
  • https://www.adama.com/documents/130172/4752576/Infographic+Type+Of+Soils
  • https://www.soils.org/discover-soils/soil-basics/soil-types 
  • https://www.gardenguides.com/107420-types-soil-us.html

 

American Soil Profile By State

Within a country, soil can differ by state/province, and even within states/provinces themselves.

In the US, each state has a soil representative i.e. a soil which best represents the soil that is found and used in that state.

You can read about the representative soil of each state in the US, and the profile of these soils here:

  • https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/soils/edu/?cid=stelprdb1236841

As one example, the soil profile in Alabama says it is well suited to cultivated crops, pasture, hay, woodland, and most urban uses. Cotton and corn are the main cultivated crops. Some areas are used as woodland.

 

2) Inspect The Soil With Your Eyes, & Test It With Your Hands

Inspect the soil with your eyes, and compress it with your hands – with and without water added.

This can give you an idea of how much clay, silt or sand is in the soil and give you an idea of the type of soil you have.

For example, there are these tests:

  • The Squeeze Test – take a handful of soil, and make sure it is damp (but not soaking). Squeeze the soil in your hand. The more the soil sticks to your hand and feels slimy, the more clay it likely has in it. The more gritty it feels, the more likely it has sand in it.
  • The Ribbon Test – take some damp soil and try to roll it into a ribbon or cylinder shape. The more the soil takes shape and doesn’t break apart, the more clay it likely has in it. The more the soil breaks apart, the more sand it likely has in it. if the soil holds together but can’t be bent without cracking, you have a loam.
  • The Jar Test – (refer to the dummies.com guide below)

 

Read more about eye and hand soil tests at:

  • https://www.dummies.com/home-garden/gardening/urban-farming-how-to-determine-your-soil-type/ 
  • https://www.gardenersworld.com/plants/find-out-your-soil-type/ 
  • https://www.burkesbackyard.com.au/fact-sheets/in-the-garden/gardening-tips-books-techniques-and-tools/soil-type-test/ 

 

3) Test Soil With A Commercial Soil Testing Kit Or Device

You can test the soil with a commercial soil testing kit, or a soil testing device (testing pen, pH pen, moisture meter, 4 way analyzer etc.).

You can buy these kits or devices from the local home/hardware, or gardening shop, or even online.

You can test for things like pH, total or separate macro nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. You can also test for moisture, and even light intensity.

 

4) Call/Contact An Expert Soil Testing Company

An option for those who want a comprehensive or advanced soil testing result.

Call or contact an expert soil testing company to come out to your land and take samples, where samples are then sent to a lab for different testing processes.

Some soil testing companies can do all three of soil, water and plant testing.

Some of the different tests you can get done (including soil testing, but also other agricultural based tests) might include:

  • Soil Testing – of the surface and sub surface. The soil can be tested for nutrients, general fertility, and a plan can be formulated that identifies why soil might be underperforming, and how exactly to get it to be more productive and fertile. Some companies come out and test the soil, whilst others send you bags that you place soil in, and then you mail it to their labs for analysis.
  • Plant Tissue Testing – to determine why plants, crops, vegetables etc. might be growing poorly in a specific soil.
  • Water Testing – something farmers might look at getting tested for irrigation and other purposes. Inorganic chemical properties can be tested in water.
  • Compost Manure Testing – tests the amounts of nutrients supplied to crops in compost or manure to properly adjust commercial fertilizer rates to meet crop needs.

 

Note – Soil On A Plot Of Land Can Differ Across The Land

So, carry out sample tests nominally across the whole area of land, or across the area of land you will be using. Don’t just test one spot on the land.

 

How To Test Soil For Nutrients, & General Soil Fertility

  • Commercial soil testing kits and devices – for total or separate macro nutrients like nitrogen, potassium, and 
  • Professional soil testing companies

 

How to test soil pH

  • Commercial soil pH testing pens or devices
  • Professional soil testing companies

 

How To Test Soil Salinity

  • Professional soil testing companies

 

How To Test Soil Type

  • Hand and eye tests
  • Professional soil testing companies

 

How To Test Soil Moisture

  • Commercial soil moisture testing device

 

How To Test Soil Texture

  • Hand and eye tests

 

How To Test Soil For Lead

  • Professional soil testing companies

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/the-different-ways-to-classify-soil-types-by-order-texture-characteristics-particle-size-colors-regions-more/

2. https://www.soils4teachers.org/around-the-world

3. https://www.adama.com/documents/130172/4752576/Infographic+Type+Of+Soils

4. https://soilsmatter.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/the-soil-orders-simplified/ 

5. https://www.soils.org/discover-soils/soil-basics/soil-types

6. https://www.gardenguides.com/107420-types-soil-us.html

7. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/soils/edu/?cid=stelprdb1236841

8. https://www.dummies.com/home-garden/gardening/urban-farming-how-to-determine-your-soil-type/ 

9. https://www.gardenersworld.com/plants/find-out-your-soil-type/ 

10. https://www.burkesbackyard.com.au/fact-sheets/in-the-garden/gardening-tips-books-techniques-and-tools/soil-type-test/  

11. https://www.planetnatural.com/product-category/organic-gardening/soil-care/test-kits/

12. https://www.nutrientadvantage.com.au/about/about-us/about-nutrient-advantage

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