How To Test Soil: For Type, pH, Moisture, Nutrients & More

There’s several different ways to test soil for a range of different things such as soil type, pH, moisture, nutrients, general soil fertility and more.

These tests are especially helpful to know for those who are looking to grow in or produce with their soil.

In this guide, we outline the different ways to test soil.


Summary – Different Ways To Test Soil

What Soil Can Be Tested For

There’s a range of tests that can be done, with some of the main ones being:

– a soil pH test

– a soil nutrients test

– test for soil type (clay, sandy, silt, loam etc.) and texture

– test for soil contaminants and hazardous materials


4 Different Ways To Test Soil

1. Visual Inspection & Squeeze Test

Inspect the soil with your eyes, and compress it with your hands – with and without water added.

Visually see what it looks like, how loose or clayey it is, how it holds water, and so on

You can get an idea of what type of soil particles it might contain, and what basic properties it might have e.g. is it clayey and it sticks together, or is it more sandy and loose?


2. DIY Test With A Commercial Soil Testing Kit

Test it with a commercial soil testing kit or soil testing device

You can buy them from the local home/outdoors/hardware shop, or gardening shop, or online

Different testing kits can test different things in the soil


3. Professional/Expert Soil Testing

Call or contact an expert soil testing company about testing your soil

They may either to come out to your land and take samples themselves, or, they may require you to put soil and/or vegetation tissue (that is growing in the soil) in a sample bag/container that you send back to them for testing in a laboratory


4. Look Up Soil Maps Online

Perform a Search Engine search of the type of soil that might be found predominantly in your State or region within a country

Soil maps showing soil orders or representative/State soils for example might give you an idea of what soil is in your area

It’s worth noting though that soil can still differ from location to location on a private piece of land, so, you’ll still likely need to do one of the other tests alongside this one for the area on your land you wish to use for soil production (or some other type of soil use)


Testing Across Different Locations On One Plot Of Land

Test in several different locations on your land as soil can vary even on one plot of land or in one growing area.


Why Test Soil

Testing your soil gives you are good idea of how to approach managing and improving your soil in the future.

For example, if you find you have heavy clay soil, your approach might be different than if you have loose sandy soil.

Your approach might be be different again if you find you have naturally fertile and workable loamy soil.


Other Notes

A hobby gardener might be OK with an online search, a visual inspection, a commercial testing kit, and some advice from their local gardening shop.

A farmer or professional producer (who relies on the soil for income) on the other hand might have had advice passed down from previous farming generations, and/or got professional local soil experts in to tell them more about the soil and how to best approach amending it, maintaining it and growing in it.


Understanding The Different Soil Types

Before getting further into the guide, if you don’t know a lot about soils already, you can get a good idea about the different types of soils, and their properties and traits in this guide.


What Sorts Of Things Can You Test Soil For?

Some of the things you might be able to test soil for might include:

Soil Type (Clay, Sand, Silt, etc.)

Nutrients (like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) & General Soil Fertility

Soil pH

Soil Moisture

Soil Light Intensity

Soil Salinity

The presence of certain minerals, metals and organic and inorganic substances (like heavy metals – lead for example)


Plant tissue, water and compost manure can also be tested by some soil testing companies. 


1) Visual Inspection & Squeeze Test

Inspect the soil with your eyes. 

What does it look like – dark or light, clayey or sandy?

Pick some soil up and compress it with your hands – both with, and without water added.

Does it hold the water and feel damp? Does it hold the water and feel sticky? Or, does the water water tend to drain straight out of it?

You can get a reasonable idea of how much clay, silt or sand is in the soil by doing these things.

For example, there are these tests:

– The Squeeze Test

Take a handful of soil, and make sure it is damp (but not soaking).

Squeeze the soil in your hand.

The more the soil sticks to your hand and feels slimy, the more clay it likely has in it.

The more gritty it feels, the more likely it has sand in it.


– The Ribbon Test

Take some damp soil and try to roll it into a ribbon or cylinder shape.

The more the soil takes shape and doesn’t break apart, the more clay it likely has in it.

The more the soil breaks apart, the more sand it likely has in it.

If the soil holds together but can’t be bent without cracking, you have a loam.


– The Jar Test

Refer to the resource for more information on the jar test


Read more about eye and hand soil tests in the,, and resources


2) DIY Test With A Commercial Soil Testing Kit/Device

You can test the soil with a commercial soil testing kit, or a soil testing device

Examples include a testing pen, pH pen, moisture meter, 4 way analyzer, and other devices

You can buy these kits or devices from the local home/hardware, or gardening shop, or even online.

You can test for things like pH, and total or separate macro nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

You can also test for moisture, and even light intensity.

So, make sure you know what you want to test, and get a kit or device that will perform that test for you.

If you’re unsure, ask someone knowledgeable that works for the store.


3) Professional/Expert Soil Testing

An option for those who want a comprehensive, details or advanced soil testing result.

Call or contact an expert soil testing company to come out to your land and take samples in different locations across where you intend to use the soil (but they should know where and how to test if you brief them on what you intend to use the soil for).

Samples are then sent to a lab for testing.

Some soil testing companies can test all three of soil, water and plants.

Some of the different tests you can get done (including soil testing, but also other agricultural based tests) might include:

– Soil Testing

Of the surface and sub-surface.

The soil can be tested for nutrients, general fertility, and a plan can be formulated that identifies why soil might be underperforming, and how exactly to get it to be more productive and fertile.

Some companies come out and test the soil, whilst others send you bags that you place soil in, and then you mail it to their labs for analysis.


– Plant Tissue Testing

To determine why plants, crops, vegetables etc. might be growing poorly in a specific soil.


– Water Testing

Something farmers might look at getting tested for irrigation and other purposes.

Inorganic chemical properties can be tested in water.


– Compost Manure Testing

Tests the amounts of nutrients supplied to crops in compost or manure to properly adjust commercial fertilizer rates to meet crop needs.


4) Look Up Soil Maps Online

You can look up soil maps of the soil typically found in your area.

This approach may or may not helpful, because the predominant soil found in a particular region according to a soil map, won’t always match the soil on an individual piece of land in an area.

You’ll need to combine this with another tests above (or several tests).

You can do a search engine search for Soil Order Maps, Or State Soils & State Representative Soils, and match them to the area you are in

If you match the soil, you can read the soil profile description of that soil online.

We provide links to World Soil Order Maps, & United States State Soil Maps in this guide.


Note – Soil On A Plot Of Land Can Differ Across The Land

So, carry out sample tests nominally across the whole area of land, or across the area of land you will be using.

Don’t just test one spot on the land.


How To Test Soil For Nutrients, & General Soil Fertility

Commercial soil testing kits and devices – for total or separate macro nutrients like nitrogen, potassium, and 

Professional soil testing companies


How To Test Soil pH

Commercial soil pH testing pens or devices

Professional soil testing companies


How To Test Soil Salinity

Professional soil testing companies


How To Test Soil Type

Hand and eye tests

Professional soil testing companies


How To Test Soil Moisture

Commercial soil moisture testing device


How To Test Soil Texture

Hand and eye tests


How To Test Soil For Lead

Professional soil testing companies

















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