Last Updated on May 4, 2021 by Grow with Bovees
As the weather starts to turn warmer and nature springs to life all around us, it’s easy to get excited about the gardening season ahead. If you’re anything like us, you’ve already begun your grand plans for everything from your produce garden to your flower beds.
Planning is arguably the most essential part of anything, and the same goes for your outdoor endeavors. For the most beautiful blooms and prize-winning fruits and vegetables, you need a little bit of forethought.
Time and Cost Efficiency of A Soil pH Meter
Testing for the macronutrients and micronutrients in your soil and its pH level will not only help you know which areas are best suited to which plants, but it can save you time and money. Knowing the soil’s specific deficiencies will direct you to more purposeful fertilizer purchases and can help you know which areas need soil amending and which can be left alone.
Even better, soil testing can help you prevent costly pest infestations that ruin your garden’s yield and your flowers’ fullest, most fragrant blooms. Pest infestations of all kinds typically result from imbalances in your soil and can be expensive to try and remedy.
Now that we understand just how valuable it can be to test soil and be aware of its state and components that affect plant growth, let’s see which home soil testing kits can best meet your specific needs.
Best Soil Testing Kit
The soil kit you pick should be tailored to your precise garden, flower bed, and even lawn needs. Here, we’ll consider each soil kit’s scope, ease of use, and cost-effectiveness.
Rapitest Premium Soil Test Kit 1663
This chemical soil test kit is the ultimate, cover-all-your-bases DIY home kit. The Rapitest will determine your soil’s N-P-K ratio as well as its pH. As with most basic home test kits, this one does not measure your soil’s micronutrient levels. However, these are often only tested as a last resort if your garden is struggling.
With 80 different possible tests in the kit, it’s a great value and easily purchased on Amazon. It includes instructions on how to perform each test, and customers report that the process gives off some mad-scientist vibes! Because you are performing the tests with their chemical agents, you’ll need a steady hand or just a little practice.
But the results, cost-effectiveness, and scope make this the best soil testing kit for all garden needs.
Luster Leaf 1847 Rapitest Digital PLUS
For those who prefer easy to read and instant results, this digital soil test offers convenience and accuracy. Your soil’s components matter the most at the root level, so that’s where this digital test takes its measurements using a probe.
This kit only tests pH, but the wealth of knowledge it offers on that one topic makes it worth it. It includes a database programmed with information about the pH preferences of a wide range of popular garden plants, making it easy to determine if your soil is a good match for a specific plant. This is a contender for the best soil pH tester out there!
With this one, just make sure to keep the test and the probe clean after each use to get the most accurate results each time you use it!
Pro-Lab Testing Soil Savvy Soil Testing Kit
While this soil kit is mail-in and not for home testing, it provides more detailed results than most home tests offer. So if you want to dive deeper and learn more about your soil’s micronutrient content, this is a fast, cost-effective, and convenient way to do it!
The kit includes paid postage to mail your soil sample for professional analysis, which will come back in 3–5 days. You’ll receive an online accessible report including the full workup: pH, N-P-K ratio, micronutrient composition, and even individualized fertilizer recommendations tailored to the needs of your soil.
The quality of this landscaper and professionally utilized soil kit, for the price, almost feels like a steal. So if you want to address your soil’s deeper needs, this one could be the perfect fit for you.
AquaChek AccuGrow 571802 Soil Test Strips
For a simple baseline analysis of your soil, you can’t go wrong with these test strips. While they won’t be as accurate and detailed as some of the digital or professional options, for those who only need a ballpark analysis, this test will cover all your bases.
If you’ve ever strip-tested a pool for chlorine content in the summer, you’ll already be familiar with how this test works. It will give you readings for pH and N-P-K ratio right on the strip, which you can compare to the included guide to interpret results.
Although it’s similar in price to many of the more detailed tests we recommend, it’s a solid choice for the gardener who wants to avoid being overwhelmed and simply to get back to basics.
Atree Soil 3-in-1 Soil Tester Kit
This basic analog test operates with a probe to assess your soil’s pH while also allowing you to test for moisture content and light saturation. Although this may seem a little bare-bones, it’s one of the best soil pH testers and a wonderful tool to have in your gardening kit for an excellent price.
Soil moisture and light saturation readings are invaluable in determining how well your plant will thrive in a particular area. The capability for measuring these values also makes this handy little tool a great one to have for indoor gardeners who care for houseplants year-round.
As with other tools, including probes, just make sure that this test gets cleaned off well between uses so that your next soil reading doesn’t get contaminated.
Types of Soil Kits
When choosing a soil kit, it’s important to be aware of the different formats available to you for obtaining your results. One may prove more convenient than the other for your needs.
Soil kits come in digital and analog read-outs. Simply put, digital tests will show your results on a screen. While this is usually the quickest way of obtaining results, you’ll need to let the sensor probes settle to get an accurate reading.
Analog tests will show results with a varying scale, much like an analog weight scale. These tests can also offer great accuracy very quickly.
Soil tests are also available in strips, which will change color after coming in contact with your soil. You can then compare the colors on the test strips to the provided key, which will break down the correlation between color and pH or nutrient content.
Another important distinction is that between home soil tests and mail-in tests. Home tests often provide soil testing basics: pH, N-P-K ratios, and sometimes other factors like light and moisture levels. For micronutrient level testing, mail-in kits offer more information but are not as immediate.
What is Soil Testing?
Depending on where you live, the type of soil in different areas of your yard and garden will significantly impact what kinds of plants will thrive there. Correct placement and soil matching can prove the difference between barely surviving plants and thriving ones.
Soil testing identifies the components of the soil available to you and can be simple and easy with a soil testing kit. These kits allow you to see what minerals and compounds your soil is lacking and which are abundant.
Today, we’re going to recommend several home soil tester kits to get you started on the right foot with your spring gardening. But first, let’s dive a little deeper into why soil testing is so important as a foundation for any of your spring gardening plans.
Why is Soil Testing Important?
Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a beginner, understanding what your plants need to thrive is an integral part of having the lush, beautiful garden we all dream about. Plants are nearly as unique as people, all with different preferences and needs. When you acknowledge and provide these needs, your plants will reward you with rich produce and beautiful blooms.
Minerals and Nutrients in Soil
If you plan to grow plants for produce, then you should be primarily concerned with feeding your plants well so they will, in turn, feed you well, too! We want our garden produce to be full of nutrients and minerals that contribute to our health, but did you know that your produce garden needs nutrients and minerals to make healthy fruits and vegetables, too?
All plants need 15 essential nutrients to survive. Plants obtain hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen from the air around them through photosynthesis. For the other 12 essential nutrients, plants depend on the soil in which you plant them.
Soil’s macronutrients consist of primary and intermediate nutrients. You’ll be most familiar with the primary nutrients, which are commonly included in most commercial fertilizers and are denoted on the bag by the N-P-K ratio standing for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Plants need these in greater quantities than the other nutrients we’ll discuss.
The intermediate nutrients your garden needs are sulfur, magnesium, and calcium. Although your plants need these in lesser amounts than the primary nutrients, they are just as crucial to your plant’s growth.
The remaining nutrients that your garden plants need to supply you with healthy garden produce are not required in significant quantities but are just as vital to ensure that your plants thrive. Iron, zinc, manganese, molybdenum, copper, and boron should be present to a small degree in rich soil.
And that’s just the basics for good soil to form a foundational produce garden! Do you see now why testing your soil is so important? It’s impossible to know by just handling, smelling, or, yes, even tasting your dirt, whether it is nutrient-rich or not.
Especially important for urban gardens is testing soil for toxic metals. When growing garden produce in areas with more chance for pollution, you’ll want to be especially careful that no pollution leeches into your soil and contaminates the produce that you’ll be eating.
One of the most important metals to test for is lead for gardens near busy roadways, which can come into the soil from gasoline runoff and even old paint exposure. Other heavy metals can also come from the residue of old insecticides, landscaping materials, and even older childrens’ playsets.
Although they are naturally occurring in soil, other metals to watch out for are arsenic and cadmium. While cadmium naturally occurs in most foods, unnaturally high levels of either of these metals in your soil can be dangerous, especially for produce.
In these instances, conducting a soil test can help make you aware of the contaminants in your soil so you can devise a healthy garden solution, such as employing raised beds for growing.
Aspects of your soil other than its nutrient percentages will also prove to be important factors in whether your plants survive or thrive. Notably, your soil’s pH will affect what types of plants, both for produce gardens and flower beds, will do well in a particular area.
Just like you learned in school, pH measures acidity level. For our bodies, a more neutral, balanced pH level is preferred. For example, good drinking water is close to 7 on the 0–14 pH scale.
However, certain plants prefer to grow in more acidic environments (0–6 on the pH scale) or more basic or alkaline ones (8–14 on the pH scale). Those planting blueberry bushes will find that they prefer highly acidic environments, as do azaleas and gardenias.
Soil pH for Bloom Color
For the gardener looking to produce beautiful, vibrantly colored blooms, your soil’s pH is also a tool that you can use to modify the color of some plants’ blooms, like those of the hydrangea. These plants’ beautiful, fluffy bloom color is determined by whether the plant is absorbing aluminum or not.
The alkaline or acidic nature of the soil will influence whether the hydrangea absorbs this nutrient. For blue blooms, the plant needs acidic soil, which prevents aluminum absorption. For pink and white flowers, the plant needs more alkaline soil, which facilitates aluminum absorption.
How To Test Your Soil
Now that you’ve chosen the best soil test kit that fits your needs, you’ll be excited to get outside and put your soil to the test. There are several things to keep in mind as you begin to assess the components of your soil.
When you sample your soil, you may want to pick several spots in the same general area to test. Soil composition can vary across your yard and even within your garden area, however small or large.
Sampling multiple locations and then testing those mixed-together samples can help you get a much more accurate idea of your soil’s composition and can help you tailor your planting locations with an even greater degree of detail.
Soil testing tools with probes make it easy and intuitive to get down to the right testing depth, but if you’ve chosen a chemical test, you’ll want to pay special attention to your sampling depth.
Make sure to dig down at least 6 inches, which is the depth at which most garden roots grow. If you’re planning to plant shrubs or other plants that will grow deeper and more extensive root systems, you’ll want to sample down even further.
We’ve mentioned the necessity of cleaning off your tools that utilize sensor probes to avoid contamination. Still, there are other ways that you can obliviously contaminate your soil sample and get skewed results.
Keeping clean hands or wearing gloves during the process will help cut down on soil cross-contamination, as will cleaning off your shovel and tools before you start testing. If you mix multiple samples for an average sample of an area, make sure you mix the soil in a clean bucket or container.
These measures are crucial for mail-in testing as well, for which contamination can alter soil readings on an even more significant and more influential level.
As you will have seen, the soil pH tester is a simple tool to measure the pH levels of your soil. It is a relatively quick and easy process once you get used to the routine. Most gardeners prefer using the soil pH tester than a chemical soil pH solution since the soil pH tester is less expensive than a chemical soil pH solution.
Now that we’ve learned about the importance of soil testing for all your gardening endeavors this spring, broken down some of the best soil test kits for varying needs, and gone over the helpful tips that will make your soil sampling go smoothly, happy gardening!
We know that once you see those big, beautiful blooms and that first piece of ripe, juicy produce, you’ll be thankful that you invested in soil testing—it’s well worth the effort!