When you are planning on planting a garden, taking soil health into consideration will help you grow larger crops with better yield production. Different plants, crops, vegetables, herbs and flowers all need to have good and healthy soil to thrive.
It is especially important to test your soil if you are planting a garden in a spot that has never had plants in it before, or if you are planting a garden in the same spot you did the previous year; it is good to know which nutrients your previous plant has used up so you can replenish it.
It is easy to look at your soil and assume that it is healthy because it can hold moisture and looks black, but you need proper soil tests to truly understand what soil is lacking.
These tests will tell you the proper nutrients your soil is lacking, which your plants need to not only live, but to thrive and produce big and plentiful fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs.
Then you can add what they need for beautiful and bountiful produce and not have to wonder why your garden isn't growing like you had planned.
You can have your garden bed soil tested, as well as the soil in your pots and containers if you have previously had plants in it to see what has been nutritionally depleted from it.
There are many testing kits out there that don't do as good a job as others, so we are going to share the best soil test kit with you.
Best Soil Testing Kit
In considering which is the best soil test kit on the market, there are a few things we took into consideration:
- number of soil tests it can perform
Knowing how healthy your soil is, is the first step to determining what it needs.
Certain plants will deplete the soil of different essential nutrients, and this is why it is great to practice crop rotation as well as soil testing. You want your soil to have all of the proper nutrients and soil fertility so you can grow your best produce.
Soil Test Kits
To test your soil, it is as easy as grabbing a soil test kit online. A soil test kit is a gardening tool that you want on hand every year to check the quality of your soil to make sure your plants will have the proper nutrients they need to grow large, abundant crops.
Soil testers and kits range from easy-to-read soil pH strips, to complex chemicals that pinpoint which nutrients your soil needs to grow good crops.
A soil test unit is a very minimal upfront cost that will ensure your plants grow properly after putting all the hard work into growing them, weeding and watering and caring for them.
You can also test the soil around your already growing plants, it is never too late as you can always feed your plant the nutrients it is lacking by sprinkling the nutrients into the ground around it or into a watering can.
To take a soil test (whether it is a digital soil tester or you use analog soil testers), it is just a matter of taking a soil sample and running it through the kit instructions.
Professional Soil Test Kits
We recommend getting a professional soil test kit as opposed to the pH test strips or a digital soil kit and here are the reasons why:
- with pH soil test strips, you need to mix your soil sample with water for the test strips and this may allow the pH of your water to interfere with the soil pH test results
- with digital soil test kits, it doesn't tell you much more about your soils sample than the pH levels of the soil, the sunlight in that area and the soil moisture content
Certain professional soil test kits not only tests for the pH level in the soil, they also test the nitrogen, the phosphorus and the potash levels (potash is a group of minerals and chemicals that contains potassium).
Also with professional test kits, you don't need to use your own tap water for the test results, which could give you false readings. Good test kits come with liquid test solution as a controlled substance for a more accurate result of your soils' health and quality.
PH Level Of Your Soil
Testing your soil for where it lies on a pH value scale will determine if your soil is too acidic or alkaline.
The pH level of soil can fall anywhere between a 3 and a 10 with the ideal soil settling at a 7. If you soil is below a 7, it is more acidic and higher than a 7 gives it a higher alkaline rating.
Certain plants do prefer certain soil acidity, however, as a gardener, you want that soil sitting between a 6.5 and 7.
Here is a chart from the United States Department of Agriculture detailing pH levels in soil and what they mean in terms of how acidic or alkaline your soil is (be sure to bookmark this article if you are going to purchase a soil test kit so you can come back and review your results against this chart):
If Your Soil Is Too Acidic (pH Level 3 - 6)
If your soil is showing that it is acidic on a pH soil test, the best way to to neutralize it is with limestone.
Limestone is made up of calcium and magnesium or calcium carbonate. Think of what you do when you are feeling acid in your stomach; you either drink a glass of milk or have an antacid pill, commonly made up of calcium carbonate.
If Your Soil Is Too Alkaline (pH 7.5 - 10)
If your soil shows that it is too alkaline after testing its pH value, you can add more organic matter. This is where that compost comes in very handy! You can add compost, manure (aged, not fresh manure), peat moss, mulch and coffee grounds/egg shells.
If you want to start cutting back on your trash to save room for garbage day, you can try composting your own food (vegetable peels, egg shells, coffee grounds, onion peels, fruit cores and more).
If you live in an apartment or condo, or bears and raccoons are a problem, you can totally compost indoors! There are some really great electric countertop composters that will literally turn your food scraps into nutrient-rich dirt by the next morning. You can use this dirt on your own potted plants!
If you prefer an outdoor composter, there are some really great choices in terms of size and product that you can have delivered to your door.
Your plants will always love getting a good dose of organic matter and produce big, beautiful fruit and vegetables for you!
Nutrients In Your Soil
The nutrients that each plant needs to grow strong, healthy and bountiful include Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. Here is what each nutrient does for your plants:
Nitrogen (N) encourages leaf growth and new shoots on your plant. It is a part of the amino acids which help the plant create protein. Nitrogen helps your plant make chlorophyll, which is essential for photosynthesis.
It is important to note that nitrogen evaporates and drains out of soil, so it is the macronutrient that most often needs to be replenished, depending on which plant you are adding it to though. Some plants don't need as much nitrogen as they do the other elements.
Phosphorus (P) is responsible for growth of roots and flowers, as well as the fruit and/or seeds that are produced from any flowers. Phosphorous is crucial for photosynthesis, for the storage and transfer of energy, for respiration among various other basic functions that your plant needs to not only grow but thrive.
- Potassium (K) activates the enzymes in your plants which determine how well a plant can tolerate stresses in the environment. Plant stresses include those caused by transplanting, heat, cold, drought, disease, and pests. Potassium is essential for overall plant health, too.
Knowing which nutrients your soil is lacking and your specific soil deficiencies is a very important part of understanding the health on your soil. This is why we are not including pH-only testing kits in our recommended soil test kit below.
It is good to understand the pH level of your garden soil, but even better than that, is knowing the nutrients your plants need and if your soil is lacking them.
Our choice of best soil test kit is a professional kit made in the United States, it gives accurate readings in terms of pH, Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potash (Potassium), you get many tests within the kit and (best of all) it is affordable:
BEST Soil Test Kit
The winner is from a company based in Woodstock, Illinois and they manufacture their very own products there. Here is what they have to say:
[We have] grown to be North America’s leader in electronic and chemical soil testers for the home gardener.
The Professional Soil Testing Kit has options in size, so you can choose from the kits that have:
- 40 tests
- 80 tests
- 200 tests
Keep in mind, it is a good idea to test your soil every year as certain plants deplete soil of specific nutrients after each growing season.
This soil testing kit also comes with a list of what plants need which type of nutrients in the soil, and it is a really great price as well.
There are other soil test kits available on Amazon, you can compare them and their prices here:
Here are some other questions people are asking about a soil test kit:
How can I test my soil?
You can easily do a soil test by collecting a sample with a soil test kit. If you are only interested in the pH levels of your soil, most kits offer testing of your soil samples to determine the soil's pH level. If you want to know about the nutrients your soil is lacking, get a kit that tests for Nitrogen, Potassium and Potash as well as soil pH.
What do you mean by soil testing?
Soil testing refers to checking the quality of your soil in terms of soil pH and nutrients and chemicals so you can give the plants exactly what they need to not just survive, but thrive. A great pH level of soil is between 6.5 and 7.
Can I test my soil myself?
You can test your own soil if you have the proper kit. The important thing to know is that most kits test for pH at home, but you can find a kit that also test for nutrient deficiencies as well, which would be best for a home test kit. You will need to take a soil sample according to your test kit instructions and read your soil test results.
How do I know if my soil is healthy?
If your soil is healthy, it won't be hydrophobic when you add water to it. This is a good first visual test to see if you soil has what it needs to support life. Hydrophobic soil will almost repel the water as opposed to absorb it.
The water will sit on top of the soil and will not go into it. This means that you need to add some different compositions and nutrients to the soil. From there, you can test your soil for quality and nutrient deficiencies using a proper test kit.
How do you enrich poor soil?
You can enrich poor soil with compost and fertilizer. A bag of fertilizer will contain nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) and each element will be represented by a number on the bag.
On a bag of 5 - 10 - 10, the "5" represents the amount of nitrogen, the middle number "10" represents the phosphorus and the last "10" represents the potassium.
How to protect your garden
Once you have your soil down pat and have vegetables, herbs and flowers planted, we recommend investing in a good electric fence to protect your garden from pests.
Rabbits, deer, raccoons, rats and even cats will get in and destroy all of the time and effort you have put in with just one break and enter.
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