• In this video, This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook explains how to test soil.


    1. Sandy soil drains too quickly; requires compost or cow manure to hold moisture.
    2. Clay soil compacts tightly and doesn’t drain well; mix in sand.
    3. Quality topsoil contains proper proportions of sand, silt and clay.
    4. Buy soil test kit from garden shop or hardware store; select one that tests for nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and pH.
    5. Dig small amount of soil from garden, yard or flowerbed using a garden trowel.
    6. Add measured amounts of soil, water and reactive agent to plastic test chamber; shake well.
    7. Wait 2 minutes for soil to settle and color to develop.
    8. Compare the soil solution color to the color-coded chart printed on the test chamber.
    9. If needed, amend the soil as recommended. For example, if soil is too acidic add lime; if it’s too alkaline, add peat moss or sulfur.
    10. Test soil annually, and treat it as needed.
    See products and services from this episode
    • Difficulty: Easy
      Ready-to-use soil test kits are inexpensive and readily available
Ask TOH users about Gardening

Contribute to This Story Below

      Video Directory

      Selected Topic/Section

      Tools List

      • hand trowel
        Garden trowel,
        used to dig out small amounts of soil for testing

      Shopping List

      1. Soil test kit