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Landscaping contractor Jenn Nawada teaches host Kevin O’Connor everything he needs to know about home soil test kits. Jenn explains the importance of soil testing, helping Kevin understand that he can’t fix what he doesn’t know about his yard.

You Can’t Fix What You Don’t Know

For homeowners who want to maintain a lush, green lawn or healthy plants, soil tests are important—after all, they can’t fix what they don’t know. Soil tests are essentially a screenshot of the soil’s health. They explain the soil’s condition, including its nutrients, what nutrients it lacks, and those in abundance. They will also explain the soil’s acidity, allowing the user to adjust it for prime growing conditions.

Fall is the Best Time to Test

Timing is essential; the best time to test soil is in the fall. The soil will need amending if the test comes back with too high or too low an acidity level. The homeowner can amend the soil in the fall, giving the soil time to rectify before the spring growing season.

Know Your pH

For grass to grow and take up nutrients, the soil needs to be within a certain window of acidity. The home soil test kit will explain the level of acidity in terms of pH, and the pH window for ideal grass growth is between 5.5 and 7.5 on the scale.

Types of Test Kits

Many at-home soil test kits are available, but the most common types include soil analyzers, strips, and capsule tests.

How To Use Soil Analyzer

  1. Clean the tester’s prongs with distilled water and a clean cloth.
  2. Dig a small hole in the ground and remove any organic debris like blades of grass, roots, leaves, and other items.
  3. Insert the prongs into the soil.
  4. Check the pH level first. Ideally, it will be in the range between 5.5 and 7.5.
  5. Check moisture levels next. Mid-range for this reading is best.

How To Use pH Strips

  1. Dig a small hole to collect a sample and remove the organic debris from the soil.
  2. Mix one part soil with one part distilled water and stir.
  3. Stick the test strip into the dirt and water solution.
  4. Test the strip against the chart on the bottle.

How To Use Capsules

  1. Take a sample of dirt from the soil, approximately 3 to 4 inches deep.
  2. Mix the dirt with distilled water according to the directions. Place in separate containers.
  3. Empty a capsule into each container and shake. Watch the color develop.
  4. Compare the color of the solution to the chart to determine the soil’s quality and needs.

Resources

Jen explains the importance of soil testing and how you can do it at home.

For the soil analyzer:

  • Clean the prongs of the tester with distilled water and clean cloth before use and between uses. This will keep the readings from being affected by the pH of a previous test or tap water.
  • Dig a small hole, remove organic debris, and insert the prongs into the soil you wish to measure. The first reading that appears will be pH, which is measured on a scale from 1 to 14, with 1 being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline. Seven is a neutral pH. Most plants will grow in a pH between 6 and 7.5.
  • These analyzers also often include a moisture reading as well. You will want the moisture to be at midrange.

Directions for pH strips are the same as the prong meters:

  • To dig a small hole, remove organic debris and thoroughly mix and wet the soil with distilled water.
  • With the strips, it helps to put a sample in a container and let it settle overnight. Don’t wipe off the strip after wetting—it will smear. Let it fully dry naturally and read the test results.

The capsule tests are as follows:

  • Dig between 3-4 inches below the surface with gloved hands and take a sample of soil, mix with distilled water, transfer some of the solution to the color comparator, add powder from each capsule to separate test containers, shake and watch the color develop. Then, note your test results. You are looking for adequate to sufficient results for each.

All materials used can be found online or at local home centers.