Whether you’re tending to a vegetable garden or trying to keep your favorite houseplant thriving, you need to know about the health of the soil you’re using. Without the right pH and the correct balance of nutrients, your plants don’t stand a chance.
The only way to know for sure what is happening in your soil is to test it. Here’s everything you need to know about the best soil test kits, including some of the best products available.
Table of Contents
- 5 Reasons Why Soil Testing is an Essential Part of Gardening
- The 8 Best Soil Test Kits for Your Garden and Lawn
- Best Soil Test Kit Reviews
- 1. MySoil – Soil Test Kit
- 2. Luster Leaf 1601 Rapitest Test Kit
- 3. Whitetail Institute Laboratory Soil Test Kit
- 4. Soil Savvy – Soil Test Kit
- 5. Lamotte Model El – Turf and Garden Soil Test Kit
- 6. Luster Leaf 1605 Digital Soil Test Kit
- 7. Sonkir Soil Moisture/Light/pH Tester Gardening Tool Kits
- 8. yoyomax Soil Testing Kits for Garden Plants
- When Should You Test Your Soil?
- What are the Most Important Things to Test for in Soil?
- How to Use a Soil Test Kit?
- How Often Should You Test Your Soil?
5 Reasons Why Soil Testing is an Essential Part of Gardening
If you’ve never tested your soil before, you might be wondering why it is such a big deal. Here are five reasons why soil testing is an essential part of gardening:
1. It’s the only way to know the soil’s pH and what nutrients are present.
Both pH and nutrients are important for growing healthy plants. Even if your soil has the perfect balance of potash, potassium, and nitrogen, if the pH is off, they won’t be able to absorb them. Plus, if the pH gets too low, some of the nutrients become dangerously high for your plants.
2. It saves you time and money.
If your plants aren’t doing well, adding fertilizer is not always the right solution. Without a soil test, there’s no way to know what your plants need and what amendments you need to add.
Without testing to get a clear idea of what you’re dealing with, you might buy the wrong fertilizer or add too much of the wrong thing, making the problem even worse. With a soil test, you can pinpoint the exact problem and address it accurately.
3. It helps control and eliminates invasive plants, diseases, and pests.
Many infestations are caused by imbalances in the soil that weaken the plants and allow disease or pests to take over. When you test the soil, you know just what you have to do to keep your plants happy, setting them up for better success.
4. You can track your progress better and learn more about your garden.
When you check your soil regularly, you have a better idea of how it’s reacting to the changes you’ve made, which is the only way to get on the right track. You not only track the changes in the nutrients, but you can also keep an eye on the pH.
5. It’s environmentally friendly.
One of the biggest perks of testing your soil is finding out exactly what it needs and what it doesn’t. We already mentioned that this can save you time and money, but it’s also good for the environment.
When you only add amendments that your soil really needs, you don’t have to worry about applying excess fertilizer and affecting the groundwater. You also lower the amount of runoff, which stops the widespread effects of using too much of the wrong kind of fertilizer.
The 8 Best Soil Test Kits for Your Garden and Lawn
Now that you know a little more about why soil testing is so important, let’s take a look at eight of the best soil testing kits out there.
|Pictures||Soil Test Kits||Tested Nutrients|
|MySoil - Soil Test Kit||pH, N, P, K, Ca, Mg, S, Fe, Mn, B, Cu, Zn, Na|
|Luster Leaf 1601 Rapitest Test Kit||pH, N, P, K|
|Whitetail Institute Laboratory Soil Test Kit||pH, P, K, Ca, Mg|
|Soil Savvy - Soil Test Kit||pH, N, P, K, Ca, Mg, S, Na, Fe, Mn, Zn, Cu, B, Al|
|Lamotte Model El - Turf and Garden Soil Test Kit||pH, N, P, K|
|Luster Leaf 1605 Digital Soil Test Kit||pH, N, P, K|
|Sonkir Soil Moisture/Light/pH Tester Gardening Tool Kits||Soil Moisture, Light, pH|
|yoyomax Soil Testing Kits for Garden Plants||Soil Moisture, Light, pH|
Best Soil Test Kit Reviews
1. MySoil – Soil Test Kit
This soil test from MySoil analyzes 13 different nutrient levels. All you have to do is mail the sample off to the testing lab using the included prepaid envelope, and you get results in six to eight days.
You can use this kit on any soil, whether you’re testing compost, potted plants, or your vegetable garden. Each kit includes everything you need for a full range of test results, like a soil scoop, sample jar, and nutrient absorb capsule.
One of the great things about this kit is that the results are displayed in the easy-to-use phone app. MySoil also recommends the amendments you need to correct any imbalances and directs you to product suggestions.
You can get this kit in packs of one, two, or four. Remember, you can only use each kit once, so be sure to order multiple packs if you need more than one result.
2. Luster Leaf 1601 Rapitest Test Kit
This rapid test from Luster Leaf gives you quick results at home for some of the most important components of your soil: nitrogen, potash, phosphorus, and pH. These tests are easy to use, and the color-coded results are easy to understand.
You get four color comparators, one for testing each component, and everything you need to do 10 tests for each. That’s 40 tests in all for a really affordable price. Simple and thorough instructions are also included, so even beginners can get reliable results.
In addition to the test itself, you also get information to help you figure out what the results mean. A pH reference list gives you recommendations for over 450 different plants, so you know what needs adjusting to help your plants thrive.
3. Whitetail Institute Laboratory Soil Test Kit
If you want results from a professional lab, this soil test kit from the Whitetail Institute is the way to go. You get scientifically accurate results so you know the pH, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium levels of your soil.
To use, follow the included instructions to collect a soil sample, then send it off to the Whitetail Institute using priority mail. Within a week, you will receive results through either email or snail mail. Note that postage and envelopes are not included.
The results also include suggestions as to what you need to do to make your soil more suitable for whatever you’re planting. All you have to do is let them know what you’re trying to grow when you send in the sample. They’ll tell you if you need to add any amendments to create ideal growing conditions.
4. Soil Savvy – Soil Test Kit
A great ready-to-use option is this soil test kit from Soil Savvy. This one gives you results for 14 different nutrients and the soil pH in an easy-to-use test.
After you send off the results, you get an easy-to-read thorough report. It not only tells you the full analysis of your soil but also what it needs and doesn’t need to balance the nutrients to your plants’ needs.
All you have to do is fill the included jar with soil and use the pre-paid envelope to send it to the lab. You’ll get your results emailed to you in seven to ten days or you can access them on the Soil Savvy website.
Using the recommendations for fertilizer from the report, you can correct your soil and help your plants thrive. Not only does this give you great-looking plants, but it also helps you save money on things that won’t work.
5. Lamotte Model El – Turf and Garden Soil Test Kit
This soil test kit from Lamotte is one of the best for accurate and fast results at home. If you’re looking for a kit that gives you results fast and don’t want to send anything off in the mail, this one is a great choice.
The kit includes everything you need for accurate testing and results. You get detailed instructions and laminated color charts to read results. It also includes enough supplies to do 15 tests each for potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen and 30 pH tests.
Another great thing about this kit is that it comes with a wealth of information about what each of these nutrients does. You can also use the included handbook to determine whether you need to add lime and what fertilizer is appropriate to correct any problems.
6. Luster Leaf 1605 Digital Soil Test Kit
This simple easy-to-use test from Luster Leaf gives you accurate in-home results. You get enough supplies to perform 10 pH tests and five each for potash, phosphorus, and nitrogen.
One of the great things about this product is that it’s so easy to read the results. Luster Leaf uses optical calibration that detects small variations and LED technology to display results on the digital soil tester.
The process is really easy, too. Just slide the test tube into the chamber, press the button for what you’re testing for, and in only a few seconds, the display tells you the pH or whether the nutrient you chose to test is present in surplus, sufficient, or depleted.
This kit also includes pH references for more than 450 plants and reference material that tells you what you need to do to correct any problems.
7. Sonkir Soil Moisture/Light/pH Tester Gardening Tool Kits
If you’re looking for a soil tester that’s a little simpler, take a look at this moisture, light, and pH tester from Sonkir. While this might not give you the full spectrum of results, sometimes these things are all you need to know.
This meter is really easy to use. The double-needle design enhances the speed and accuracy of the results, and it doesn’t even need batteries. All you have to do is stick the probe into the soil between two and four inches deep, then adjust the meter to what you want to measure.
The lightweight, portable design is easy to carry around outside in the garden and can easily be used for indoor plants, too. It comes in particularly useful for indoor houseplants to make sure they’re getting enough light from nearby windows.
8. yoyomax Soil Testing Kits for Garden Plants
This yoyomax soil testing kit is a simple option when you want to check pH, light, and moisture levels, and you want results fast. It uses a double-needle design that gives you basic information about your soil quickly and easily.
One of the things that stands out about this monitor is how easy it is to use. All you have to do is stick the probes into the top of the soil two to four inches deep, choose the parameter you want to measure, wait 60 seconds, and read the dial.
In addition to being easy to read, this tester doesn’t require any batteries, and you can use it just about anywhere. It’s also extremely affordable and available in multiple colors, including greed, silver, purple, and yellow.
When Should You Test Your Soil?
The best time to test your soil is in the fall because it gives you time to make the necessary changes in time for the next growing season. Fall testing is especially helpful if you need to adjust the soil pH as this can take a while to do.
That said, there’s not a wrong time to test your soil. If you notice a sudden change in the health of your plants midway through the growing season, testing your soil is the best way to determine the problem.
Some people also choose to retest after adding any amendments to make sure that the soil is responding appropriately.
What are the Most Important Things to Test for in Soil?
Soil tests test for different things, but the most important results that you need to know are:
pH – Soil pH tells you how acidic or alkaline the soil is. The range runs from 1 to 14, with lower numbers being more acidic and higher more alkaline. Seven is considered neutral, and most plants like something around 6.5 to 7.
Why is neutral pH important to plants? Because the beneficial bacteria in the soil thrive in it. These bacteria decompose the nutrients and minerals in the soil, which makes it so the plants can absorb them.
Many microorganisms required for healthy plant growth also thrive with a pH in this range. When the pH is too high or too low, the plants aren’t able to use the nutrients in the soil as well.
Nitrogen – Nitrogen is important for plants because it is a component of chlorophyll, which plants need for photosynthesis. Without it, plants cannot synthesize chlorophyll, which leads to yellow leaves and stunted growth.
Plants also need nitrogen for developing seeds, flowering, and fruiting. Without enough nitrogen, plants cannot grow. Their leaves die back, they don’t mature appropriately, and if they do produce flowers or fruit, they are pale and malformed. Low nitrogen also makes plants more susceptible to diseases and pests.
Potash – Potash is another name for potassium, and plants need it for many reasons. Potassium regulates the plant’s uptake of carbon dioxide, playing an important role in photosynthesis.
It is also used in many of the plant’s cellular activities, like creating energy to excrete waste materials, regulating salts in plant tissues, and facilitating the production of starch and protein.
Signs of potassium deficiency include yellowing or dropping leaves, stunted growth, and intolerance to temperature changes.
Phosphorus – Phosphorus plays a significant role in many of the processes plants need to thrive. Plants need it for root and leaf development, photosynthesis, and to store and transport nutrients.
Phosphorus also plays a big part in fruit production and maturity and in transferring genes from one generation to the next.
If your soil has a phosphorus deficiency, symptoms are sometimes hard to see until it’s too late. Plants may grow well at first but fail to mature or produce fruit.
Calcium – Plants need calcium for a variety of reasons. Calcium helps maintain pH levels within the plant, makes cell walls strong, helps plants ward off and fight diseases, and activates enzymes.
Generally, calcium supports plant growth and development and prevents plants from dying too quickly. Plants with a calcium deficiency experience stunted growth or deformities. They may also have yellow leaves, though this can be a sign of many other problems.
Magnesium – Another thing you should test for is magnesium. Plants use this nutrient to help strengthen cell membranes. It’s also essential for photosynthesis as, along with chlorophyll, magnesium plays a key role in turning leaves green.
How can you tell if your plants need more magnesium? The leaves may turn yellow or develop purple or red spots.
That said, many other deficiencies can cause similar symptoms, especially yellows. This just goes to show how important a soil test is. It’s the only way to know what your soil is lacking so you can make the proper adjustments.
How to Use a Soil Test Kit?
How you use a soil test kit depends on the type you are using.
If you’re using a simple meter that measures pH, light, and moisture, all you have to do is stick the two probes into the soil about two to four inches deep. Then, choose the parameter you want to measure, wait a full minute, and read the dial.
For tests that ask you to collect a soil sample to send out to a lab, follow the directions in the kit closely. Each of these is a little different because every company and lab will have its own guidelines, so it’s very important to follow the instructions closely.
As for in-home testing kits that give you fast results, they’re all a little different, but the process is generally the same.
First, put on garden gloves and dig a hole in the area where you want to test the soil. Make sure you dig down at least four inches. Don’t touch the soil with your hands as this can contaminate the sample.
Collect some soil from at least three inches below the surface from the side of the hole. Be sure to break it up so there are no clumps. Remove any rocks, pebbles, or other materials.
Fill the test tube from the soil test kit with soil. Some also have you add distilled water, so do whatever the instructions for your kit ask for. Follow the directions on your kit from this point in the process to make sure you get the most accurate results.
How Often Should You Test Your Soil?
At the very least, you should test your soil every fall. This way, you get a good idea of where you stand at the end of the growing season, and you have plenty of time to make any adjustments before the spring.
If you want to be really on the ball, test again in the spring before you plant anything. By doing so, you can see if the changes you made in the fall were effective. If they weren’t, you still have some time to fix things before it’s too late.
For the best results, keep up with this testing rotation every year. If you want to be very diligent, take photos regularly so you can compare the development of your garden and how it responds to the changes.
It’s also important to remember that some changes take a long time to be effective. You should think about the health of your soil continuously and do what you can to maintain its health.
The best way to do this is to test regularly.
As you can see, testing your soil is extremely important. It’s the only way to know whether your soil has the right balance of nutrients and a pH that helps your plants absorb them.
If you want a soil test that’s done in a lab, we recommend the MySoil Soil Test kit. Not only does it test for pH and 13 different nutrients, but it also gives you your results in an easy-to-read app right on your cell phone.
For anyone who wants an in-home test that delivers fast results, the Luster Leaf Rapitest Test Kit is a good choice. It tells you four of the most important parameters for your soil: pH, phosphorus, potash, and nitrogen. This test gives you easy-to-use color-coded tests. They’re affordable and you get 40 tests in all. Plus, Luster Leaf gives you a ton of useful information about how to fix any problems that you uncover.
Remember, you can’t tell the health of your soil just by looking at it, and by the time your plants start to show signs of deficiencies, it’s often too late to save them. Using a soil test kit is the only accurate way to find problems and fix them before they start to affect the health of your plants.