How to test your soil at home

Smartleaf Compost pH Test Results shows 7 by Wayan Vota

How to test your soil at home has been written on behalf of The Garden Lady by Mr McGregor, a popular Notcutts gardening writer.

It’s extremely important to discover the type of soil you’re working with in the garden as it determines what flowers you can and cannot grow. As soon as I moved into my home in the countryside I went straight outside and conducted a soil test. If you have a desire to create a beautiful outdoor space or have just moved home, I implore you to test your soil. It’s quick, easy and once you know there will be no stopping you when it comes to creating the garden of your dreams.

There are many methods you can use to test your soil and below you’ll find two of my favourites. One is very simple, but can be only used to test alkaline and acidic soils, whereas the other takes a bit more time and effort, but offers a wider range of results.

You can tell what soil type you have by simply looking and touching the soil. However, I take this as more of an indicator and not as a true result.

Indicators – look and touch

  • Firstly water the area of soil you’ll be taking your sample from and if the water disappears quickly you will have sandy or gravelly soil
  • Take a handful of your soil and squeeze. When you release, if the soil keeps its shape and feels sticky then you will have clay soil. However, of it feels spongy you’ll have peaty soil, but if gritty that indicates sandy soil or if it feels smooth, but isn’t as rigid as clay soil would be then you’re more than likely working with loam soil.

Quick soil test

Equipment

  • Two glass containers
  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar
  • Water
  • Two soil samples

Method

  1. Put a soil sample into each container
  2. In one container add half a cup of vinegar and in another mix water and half a cup of baking soda

Results

  • If the vinegar test begins to bubble or fizz then the soil type is alkaline
  • If the baking soda test begins to bubble or fizz then the soil type is acidic

Two hour soil test

Equipment

  • Glass container
  • Water
  • Soil sample

Method

Place a soil sample in a glass container; add water and leave to settle for two hours.

Examining the results

  • If the water is almost clear and the particles have sunk to the bottom of the glass you have sandy or gravelly soil
  • If the water is cloudy and there is only a thin layer of sediment at the bottom and the clay particles are taking a while to settle you have clay soil (determine if you have clay soil by using the touch method, if it doesn’t feel like clay, it’ll be silty)
  • If the water is cloudy and there is only a thin layer of sediment at the bottom and the silty particles are taking a while to settle you have silty soil
  • If particles are floating to the top, there is a thin layer of sediment at the bottom and the water is slightly murky then you have peaty soil
  • If the water is grey in colour and the particles at the bottom of the glass are white then you have chalky soil
  • If the water is almost clear and there is layer of sediment at the bottom with the finest particles on top then you have loamy soil

The acid test

Knowing the pH level of your soil is also important as it will tell you if you need to improve it by either making it more acidic or alkaline. The usual pH level for British gardens measures between 4.0 and 8.5. You can get an acid test at your local garden centre.

  • Measures between 1 -7 then you have acidic soil. This is often found in peaty soils
  • Measures exactly 7 then you have neutral soil. This is often found in clay soils
  • Measures between 7-14 then you have alkaline soil. This is often found in chalky soils

Mr McGregor

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