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The Best Soil Test Kits and How to Use Them

If you’re a gardener and have ever wondered if your soil is acidic, alkaline, or somewhere in between, then this article is for you. Soil testing can be done with kits that are available at most garden centers and local hardware stores (or online). 

A good soil test can evaluate just about everything that’s going on in your soil. Is it alkaline? Neutral? High in nitrogen? Low in potassium? Conducting a soil test can help you grow healthy grass and garden plants – and only one of the best soil test kits will help you do so in a quick, efficient manner.

Here’s a guide to testing your soil – along with suggestions on the best soil test kits money can buy.

Why Should You Test Your Soil?

There are plenty of reasons why you should consider testing your soil. For one, plants are just like people and animals in that they have certain nutrients they need to grow. The main ones are nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus (commonly referred to as NPK), but the list doesn’t end there. There are other nutrients, like calcium and manganese, that are essential for healthy plant growth.

When you are first starting your garden or looking to improve the health of your yard, it’s important to test the soil so you know exactly what you are working with. Then you can amend it to suit whatever it is you are trying to go. If you don’t test the soil first and just add a general fertilizer, you will likely suffer from an overload of some nutrients and a deficit of others.

Over fertilization can cause serious problems with your plants and grass, leading to roots that grow erratically and become forked or even burned, and overall poor growing. 

It’s important to learn the pH of your soil, too. Soil that is too acidic or alkaline won’t produce nice-looking, healthy plants. All plants are different in terms of what soil pH they require – so testing the soil is essential. 

Types of Tests to Run On Your Soil

There are several types of tests you can run on your plants, including your grass, before you plant. Here’s a quick overview. 

Macronutrient Tests 

A macronutrient test will tell you which of the major nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, are in your soil. 

These often tend to be chemical tests but the unfortunate news about these is that they can be somewhat unreliable when it comes to measuring nitrogen. Nitrogen is somewhat mobile in the soil so it can be difficult to test for it. 

That said, these tests are of the utmost importance when it comes to testing phosphorus and potassium, which help to develop fruits, vegetables, and roots.

Micronutrient Tests

First, the sad news – most home test kits don’t measure values of micronutrients in the soil. That’s not to say you can’t find them, though! Just make sure you check the product description before you buy so that you know exactly what you are getting. 

These might test for micronutrients (and nutrients that can serve as potential contaminants) such as:

  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Manganese
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Lead
  • Aluminum 

pH Tests

pH tests can test the alkalinity or acidity of your soil. Most plants like to be grown at a neutral pH, around 6.0-7.0, but not all soil falls naturally within that range. Therefore, you may need to adjust the soil pH, but only after determining what it actually is. That way, you can safely apply things like lime or aluminum sulfate without harming your plants. 

There are plenty of other tests you can buy for your soil, too, including those that measure things like moisture in the soil and sunlight levels.

Types of Soil Test Kits – and How to Test Your Soil

Now that you know what exactly you’ll be testing for, here’s an overview of the many types of soil test kits you can buy – and how to use them. 

mysavvy soil test kit

Chemical

Chemical soil testers are relatively straightforward. You’ll put a little bit of soil in a vial, add some water, then put in a colored capsule that matches the color on the vial’s lid. This corresponds to the nutrient that the soil test is looking for. You’ll shake, then wait (the amount of time you wait will vary depending on the specific kit.

Then, you’ll compare the color in your vial to the colors on a chart to get an idea of what nutrients are in the soil. 

The only downside to using this kind of kit is that it’s going to be up to you to interpret the results – read incorrectly, and you could end up over-or under-fertilizing your plants. Plus, there’s a limited number of uses based on how many capsules come with your soil test kit, too.

Digital

A digital soil test kit is a bit more particular than a chemical one, often using an electrical charge to get an idea of which soil components (and how much) are in the soil. These sometimes require batteries and need to be cleaned with soap and water or alcohol.

The good news about these testers is that they are easy to use. Often, you’ll just insert the probe into the soil and get your reading. Others might require you to use vials but offer a slightly more accurate reading. 

The only downside to using a digital kit, besides the need for batteries and cleaning, is that you generally can only find them to test pH and not any other variables.

Analog

Analog soil testers will examine your soil by requiring you to insert either two or three metal probes into the soil. When inserted into the ground, electrical energy will register between the probes and help them figure out things like your pH, the soil moisture, and sunlight. Some can also test soil fertility.

These aren’t quite as accurate as digital devices but are extremely quick to use. 

Professional Mail-in Kits

The last option on this list of soil test kits is the professional soil testing option. If you choose a professional kit, you’ll take a sample of your soil and mail it to a laboratory. There, scientists will conduct a series of tests. Often, these tests are highly comprehensive and will give you a very detailed picture of everything you need to know.

You will often get recommendations for amendments and fertilizers along with the best plants for you to grow. These tests tend to be the most reliable and can also be personally tailored. Many can also measure other factors of your soil, such as its structure. The downside is that there is some downtime between when you take your soil sample and when you receive your results – you won’t be able to take action immediately. With that said, soil test kits are a must-have at least once per year for those looking to really take control of their yard.

Here is my first soil report from a Soil Savvy kit. My soil ended up needing a balanced fertilizer.

The 7 Best Soil Test Kits

1. Soil Savvy – Soil Test Kit

Sale
Soil Savvy - Soil Test Kit | Understand What Your...
  • Soil Testing Simplified! Soil Savvy is a Ready-To-Use professional-grade soil test kit available to the general public that...
  • Analysis provides a full report, comprised of soil pH and 14 nutrients including (N,P,K)
  • A truly Sustainable approach to fertilizer management, Soil Savvy determines what nutrients are needed by your plants and...

Soil Savvy is a ready-to-use, professional-grade soil test kit that provides an easy-to-understand fertilizer recommendation tailored specifically for your garden. After taking a soil sample by filling a jar with soil from your garden, you’ll ship the sample in with a prepaid postage envelope and receive detailed results via email within 7-10 business days. 

Soil Savvy assesses pH levels and 14 nutrients, including nitrogen (N), potassium (P), and phosphorus(K). The assessment also includes information on secondary macronutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium and micronutrients like copper, zinc, boron, manganese, molybdenum, sulfur, selenium, sulfur, cobalt, nickel, chromium, arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium. 

This truly sustainable approach will determine what nutritional needs are not being met by fertilizers purchased from big box stores or garden centers which may be harmful in their long-term effects. It also identifies potential toxins in the soil so you know where, exactly, it might not be a great idea to plant. Each kit comes with everything you need to get started along with highly detailed instructions.

What We Liked:

  • Full report of all micro-and macronutrients found in the soil
  • Offers easy-to-understand fertilizer recommendations
  • Very easy to use

What We Didn’t Like:  

  • Their online report tool seems to be non-existent, even though the product itself claims it as a feature. It appears they’ve had technical difficulties with their website. With that said, they still email you your report after analyzing at the lab.

2. MySoil-Soil Test Kit 

Sale
MySoil - Soil Test Kit | Grow The Best Lawn &...
  • KNOW BEFORE YOU GROW | Grow the healthiest, sustainable lawn and garden with the most accurate and easy to use soil test kit on...
  • ROOTED RESULTS | Unlike at home pH meters and test strips, our professional lab analysis measures 13 plant available nutrient...
  • FOR ANY GROWING SCENARIO | Tests any soil type and gardening condition - lawn & turf, vegetable gardening, flowers, compost,...

Another great option to continue is the MySoil Soil Test Kit. It is the perfect way for you to analyze your soil and make sure that it has just what each plant needs. It’s accurate, easy-to-use, so simple that even a novice gardener could use one

You’ll take a sample from your soil and send the kit in for a professional evaluation. It’s designed for someone who wants specific, tailor-made recommendations that suit their unique circumstances – not a cookie-cutter solution.

This high-quality product provides you with organic recommendations made just for your garden needs. The MySoil report will provide 13 plant nutrient levels, including nitrogen as well as a pH reading, in order to ensure that your plants are getting what they need no matter what.

You can create a tailored organic fertilizer recommendation based on your needs. You’ll love how this product works in all growing scenarios – from planting seedlings to roses in full bloom, there’s something here for everyone!

What We Liked:

  • Each kit comes with prepaid return postage
  • Excellent customer service and support
  • Measures soil pH as well as 13 available nutrients

What We Didn’t Like:  

  • Some customers report that the recommended fertilizers don’t always match the nutrient deficiency

3. Luster Leaf 1601 Rapitest Test Kit

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Luster Leaf 1601 Rapitest Test Kit for Soil pH,...
  • Quick, at home results for Soil pH, Nitrogen, Phosphrous and Potash
  • Innovative and inexpensive soil test kit features an easy-to-use capsule system and patented color comparators
  • Contains all components needed for 40 tests. 10 for each of pH, N, P and K

This test kit from Luster Leaf is widely regarded as one of the best rapid test kits money can buy – but you won’t have to pay a fortune in order to purchase it. An innovative and inexpensive kit, it is equipped with a simple capsule system and patented color comparators so that you can test your soil for all kinds of nutrients, including potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen. 

It will also test your pH! 

All in all, this soil test kit offers the ability to test for 40 different variables. It comes with highly detailed instructions that make the kit easy to use by both inexperienced and professional gardeners. If you’re curious about what your soil pH means for your plants, you’re in luck, because this soil test kit also comes with a preference list for more than 450 different plants. 

What We Liked:

  • Test for nutrients as well as pH
  • Allows for easy color comparisons with its unique color comparator system
  • Has a bonus chart with recommendations for 400+ plants

What We Didn’t Like:  

  • Test containers are tall and narrow, which can make them hard to fill

4. SHOWcase Soil PH Meter,3-in-1 Soil Test Kit

Soil Moisture Meter,3-in-1 Soil PH/Moisture/Light...
  • 3 in 1 Soil Tester: Moisture Meter let you know when to water to control the humidity;PH Tester help you to control Ph level in...
  • Easy to Use: No Battery needed; Simply insert the probe of the soil testing kit into soil around 2-4 inches, then toggle switch to...
  • Accurate & Sensitive Probe: The 3-in-1 Soil Moisture/Light/pH meter is designed with premium double-needle detection technology,...

How to know when it is time for watering your plants, what the soil’s pH level might be and how much sunlight they are getting? The answer lies with the 3 in 1 Soil Tester by SHOWcase. 

It has everything you need – a moisture meter that will let you know when to water, a pH tester that will help you control the pH level in the soil, and even a sunlight gauge to help determine if the plant is receiving adequate light. The easy-to-use device requires no battery power – simply insert the probe into the ground around two inches deep then toggle switch on moisture meter, PHT tester or sun gauge as needed. It’s as simple as that!

This product is a lightweight and portable soil test kit that can be used indoors or outdoors. It consists of the probe, two color glasses for testing pH levels (3.5-8), and an instruction manual to help you understand how to use it correctly in order not to make any mistakes with your results by measuring too high or too low. It even comes with a plastic case to add to its portability! 

What We Liked:

  • Great for both the average homeowner as well as professional landscapers
  • Comes with a built-in tape measurer
  • Evaluates water levels, pH, and sunlight all in one

What We Didn’t Like:  

  • pH tester cannot be used on dry soils

5. AquaChek AccuGrow 571802 Soil Test Strips

Many soil test kits offer more of a range for pH than an accurate number – but this set of soil test strips by AquaChek is the way to go if you want a bit more precision.

All you have to do is mix together some soil with distilled water. Shake, then place your test strips into the tube. You’ll wait about five minutes before you take out the strips to figure out how acidic or alkaline your soil is – and you can get results for various intervals and depths in your soil, too, to give you a more complete idea.

You’ll get a comparison chart so that you can get a side-by-side image of where your soil is at in terms of major nutrients (NPK) along with pH. Though not the most technologically advanced professional system in the world, it will get the job done for you!

What We Liked:

  • Simple system that measures soil pH and nutrients
  • No-fuss system is easy to figure out
  • Comes with a side-by-side comparison chart for easy decoding

What We Didn’t Like:  

  • Some users complain that the results aren’t the most reliable 

6. Atree Soil pH Meter

Atree Soil pH Meter, 3-in-1 Soil Tester Kits with...
  • 3-IN-1 FUNCTIONS: You can measure soil moisture, pH value and sunlight intensity. It's helpful for you to plant flowers, plants...
  • EASY TO USE: Simply insert the probes into the soil about 4-6 inches (2/3 of the probes), and you'll get your reading
  • COMPACT FOR INDOOR & OUTDOOR USE: Know when to water, adjust pH, or change lighting for your flowers, plants both indoor and...

This soil tester is so easy to use! Simply insert the probes into the soil and you’ll get your reading. It’s perfect for both indoor and outdoor use, including recreational gardening or professional farming.

You can measure pH value, sunlight intensity (the amount of light in a given location) as well as moisture levels with this handy device. A highly compact unit, it allows you to check the soil to depths of four or six inches so you can get a detailed reading at any depth.

A scientifically accurate device, it requires no batteries or electricity – simply plug it in and read! It can evaluate moisture as well as pH and light, making it a truly all-in-one device. 

What We Liked:

  • Measures moisture in addition to pH and light 
  • Can be used on both indoor and outdoor plants
  • Easy to use with no batteries necessary 

What We Didn’t Like:  

  • Should not be used to test water pH before planting or irrigating

7. Sonkar Soil pH Meter, MS02 3-in-1 Soil Moisture/Light/pH Tester

Sale
SONKIR Soil pH Meter, MS02 3-in-1 Soil...
  • Kindly NOTE: This soil tester can not be applied to test pH value of any other liquid. If the soil is too dry the indicator will...
  • 3-IN-1 FUNCTION: Test soil moisture, pH value and sunlight level of plant with our soil meter, helps you specialize in grasping...
  • ACCURATE & RELIABLE: Double-needle Detection Technology strongly enhances the speed and accuracy of detecting and analyzing soil...

This smart device will take care of all your needs with only one tool! The soil meter can measure moisture level as well as pH so that it’s easy enough to know when or if watering or fertilizing is needed. No more guessing games! 

With its reliable accuracy, this handy gadget couldn’t be easier to use. Just insert the sensor probe into the moist ground about eight inches deep, then read off values on screen in either imperial (inches) or metric units depending on which method you prefer.

It requires no batteries. You’ll just toggle the switch to your desired test and go! It’s lightweight and portable, meant to be carried around in a pocket. Plus, it can be used both indoors or outside.

What We Liked:

  • 3-in-1- device
  • Backed by a manufacturer’s warranty
  • No batteries required 

What We Didn’t Like:  

  • Some customers complain about the accuracy of the pH reader

The Takeaway 

Soil is a big deal – you know that. It sustains the plants and lawns we grow, and it provides us with everything from food to oxygen.

If your soil needs improvement, you can have issues with your grass or landscaping plants, such as nutrient deficiencies that can make it difficult for your grass to grow and thrive. A soil test kit can be used to figure out what kind of nutrients are present in the plant’s environment  – so that you can give them what they need to grow well.

Testing your soil can tell you a lot about what’s going on in the garden – or on your lawn. Take the time to test your soil. It’s easy to do with one of these best soil test kits!

FAQ

Are soil test kits accurate?

Soil testing kits are a great way to test your soil for nutrients, but how accurate are they? 

Just because you have a soil test kit, doesn’t mean it’s accurate. Soil tests are only as good as the person who interprets them. Many factors can influence the accuracy of your soil test, so in many cases, it’s a good idea to have your test read by a professional (like the mail-in options we listed above) for the best accuracy.

When you purchase a kit, make sure it is one that has been approved by the USDA or some other reputable organization – or one that’s been backed by positive customer reviews, like those we mentioned in this article. 

If not, then you may be wasting your money and time on inaccurate results.

Can’t I just use a homemade or DIY soil test kit?

Many people use homemade soil test kits because they are cheaper than store-bought test kits, but these tests can be inaccurate. One of the most common and inexpensive methods for testing your soil is using homemade ingredients such as salt, water, vinegar or baking soda to make a solution. 

Although these DIY tests can work, they are prone to misinterpretation. You may find that you misread the test results and don’t know how much (or what) of fertilizer to apply. Therefore, it’s almost always a better option to invest in a professional soil test kit. That way, you won’t create more work for yourself by adding the wrong fertilizers or amendments.

What is the quickest way to lower soil pH?

Soil pH ranges from 1 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Most plants grow best in slightly acidic soil, around 6-7 on the pH scale. The quickest way to lower soil pH is by adding large quantities of aluminum sulfate or sulfur every year before planting time in spring and fall.

How can I raise my soil pH?

If you find yourself with a soil pH that is too high, you are not alone. Many gardeners have had to deal with the common problem of how to raise their soil’s pH. Luckily, there are many ways in which you can remedy this issue. 

One option is adding organic matter like compost or animal manure to your garden bed and letting it decompose for at least six months before planting anything in it. Of course, this does take some time – so many gardeners choose to instead add things like lime. You could also add wood ashes or grass clippings and leaves, which will raise soil pH more gradually. 

How can I find out what type of soil I have? 

Not sure what kind of soil you have in regards to its texture? You can figure it out quickly by grabbing a handful. If the soil falls apart in your hand, you likely have sandy soil. If it stays clumped together and falls apart only when you poke it, you have loam. If it stays clumped together, even after you have prodded it, you likely have clay. 

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