A soil test will let you know what type of soil you have and what needs to be added to the soil to make it productive. Soil can be acidic, alkaline, neutral, sandy, loamy, compacted, or filled with clay or silt. These are neither good nor bad as long as you grow the right plant in the right soil.
Success in the garden starts with the soil – the soil feeds the plants so the plant must be located in the right type of soil, plus the soil must be fertile, so the plants can thrive.
For example, tomatoes and azaleas thrive in acidic soil while clematis and honeysuckle thrive in alkaline soil. Very few plants will grow in heavy clay or sandy soils. But how will you know what type of soil you have? Use one of these simple soil tests to find out so your garden will be more productive.
Test for Acidity and Alkalinity
A few ingredients from your kitchen will let you know if the garden soil is acidic (sour soil) or alkaline (sweet soil).
Place 2 tablespoons of soil in a small bowl and add enough water to moisten the soil. Add 1/2-cup of baking soda, if it fizzes the soil is acidic.
Place 2 tablespoons of soil in a small bowl and add 1/2-cup of white vinegar. If it fizzes, you have alkaline soil.
If the soil does not react to either test, it has a neutral pH with a value of 7. Plant roots absorb nutrients best when the pH is close to the 7 range and microbial activity will increase in the soil.
A very high or very low soil pH will result in a nutrient deficiency and possible toxicity for the plant and it will not thrive. Soil pH can be adjusted so plants can thrive. Acidic soil is amended by applying finely ground limestone, and alkaline soil is amended with an application of ground sulfur.
I explain how you can change the bloom color of Hydrangeas by adjusting the soil acidity in this article.
Jar Soil Test
This simple soil test will tell you much silt, sand, and clay the garden soil contains.
What you will need to conduct this soil test:
– a lidded quart jar with straight sides
– a hand-held trowel
Dig down 6-inches (15 cm) into the soil that you want to test.
Fill the jar half-full with soil. Then fill the jar to within 1-inch (2.5 cm) of the top with water, put the lid on it.
Set aside for 1 hour.
Next, shake the jar hard for 2-3 minutes.
Set it down for 1 minute.
Go find a ruler.
At the end of 1 minute, use the ruler to measure the amount of sediment that has collected at the bottom of the jar.
This is the sand in your soil.
Do not move the jar and wait 4 more minutes.
Measure the sediment again.
The difference between the two numbers will be the amount of silt in your soil.
Do not disturb the jar and wait 24 hours.
Measure the sediment the third time:
The difference between the second and third number will be the amount of clay in your soil.
Calculate the percentages of sand, silt, and clay, which should add up to 100 percent.
Healthy soil consists of 40 percent sand, 40 percent silt, and 20 percent clay. If any of the percentages are off and the soil needs to be amended.
How to amend soil content:
For sandy soil, add humus or well-rotted animal manure, peat moss, or sawdust. Heavy, clay-rich soil can also be added to improve the soil structure.
For silty soil (very fine sand or clay), add coarse sand or gravel and compost to add texture. Well-rotted animal manure mixed with fresh straw will also amend silty soil and make it suitable for growing plants.
For clay soil, add coarse sand, compost, and peat moss to lighten it up so air, water, and plant roots can penetrate through it.
Soil that is rich with compost will be loamy and filled with organic matter, including worm-castings. Worms in the garden are desirable: They keep the soil aerated and fertilized as they create underground tunnels and leave behind their castings.
To determine how rich in compost and organic matter the garden soil is, wait for a warm spring day just after a rain. Dig up a large shovel-full of garden soil and dump it on a piece of cardboard. Break the soil apart and look for worms.
Garden soil that is fertile and healthy will have at least 10 worms per shovel-full. If you find less than 10 worms the soil needs to be amended with organic matter, like compost or well-rotted animal manure. Organic matter improves structure, slowly releases nutrients, and increases beneficial microbial activity.
Taking a handful of soil and squeezing it will help you determine what type of soil you have.
Take a handful of moist soil from your garden, and give it a firm squeeze. Then, open your hand and observe what happens.
– The soil falls apart as soon as you open your hand – the soil is sandy.
– The soil retains its shape, even after being poked – the soil contains a lot of clay.
– If the soil retains its shape but falls apart when poked, you have the ideal garden soil: loamy and full of organic matter.
Soil Test Kit
A simple soil test kit can be purchased anywhere that garden supplies are sold. The kits are inexpensive, easy to use, and will help determine what type of soil you have so it can be amended if needed.
A simple soil test can help you grow bigger, better, and more produce. Give it a try this spring!
I have other article about soil. You can check out “What can you do to improve soil health” here.