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ECO gardener

You can't tell if your garden soil is ideal for growing crops if you're not testing it. Testing soils lets you know the unique characteristics of your garden soil, such as its pH, acidity, and nutrient profile.

Through testing, you'll know how to resolve issues like acidic soil, prevent over-fertilization, or address deficiencies. Why should you test your garden soil? What kinds of tests should you conduct? We'll answer all these questions and more with this guide:

Reasons to Test Your Garden Soil

woman holding soil

Soil testing is necessary to guarantee a higher yield after every growing season. Here are reasons why you should add soil testing to your regular gardening tasks:

Determine soil pH: Measuring the acidity or alkalinity of your garden soil is essential to re-balance the growing conditions of your crops. If the soil is too acidic or alkaline, certain plants cannot grow. Most plants prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.

Resolve nutrient deficiencies: Some soils lack the nutrients needed to support healthy plant growth. That's why it's essential to test your garden soil and determine what supplements are necessary for soil amendment at the end of the growing season.

Determine soil structure: Different soils have different structures, and not all are ideal for growing crops. Some soils are too loose that the particles cannot hold moisture long enough for plants to absorb. Other soils absorb too much water, which can cause root rot. Soil testing helps you determine how suitable your soil's structure is for growing different crops. It will help decide what kinds of plants will thrive in your garden and/or what you can do to improve its texture.

Avoid over-fertilization: Too much of a good thing can be bad for your crops when amending the soil. Over-fertilization can cause salts in the soil to build up and harm plants. Regular soil testing lets you know how much fertilizer is needed to improve fertility without going overboard.

Read: How To Prepare Your Garden For The Spring

4 Ways to Test Garden Soil

Learning about your garden soil lets you find the right solution for your garden's needs. Through soil testing, you'll know what kinds of soil amendment materials will resolve your garden's nutrient deficiencies. You'll determine your garden soil's acidity, drainage, and composition.

Thankfully, soil testing can be done on your own at home. Here are four types of DIY soil tests you can try:

The Squeeze Test

soil in palm

This test determines your garden's soil type. The most common soil types are:

  • Loamy
  • Sandy
  • Clay

Loamy soil is considered the ideal structure because it's not too loose or too dense. It retains moisture well, but it won't cause root rot. Sandy soil has loose particles, so it's quick draining. It cannot retain nutrients and water for long. Clay soil is the total opposite of sandy soil. The texture is compact and dense. It holds on to moisture too long, although it is nutrient-rich.

To check your garden soil:

  1. Take a handful of moist - not wet - soil from random areas and give it a good squeeze.
  2. After squeezing, open your hand and check if the soil can hold its shape.
  3. Give it a light poke to check if it will crumble or maintain its shape. If it doesn't fall apart when poked firmly, the soil is too dense.

The texture is too loose if it crumbles when you open your hand. If it holds its shape and crumbles only when poked, it's loamy.

The Percolation Test

Does your garden soil have drainage issues? Some plants cannot stand standing water, like herbs. If the water holds too much water for a long time, plant roots are exposed to excess moisture. Eventually, the roots will start rotting, killing the plants. To check your garden soil's drainage, try the percolation test.

Start by getting a trowel and digging a one-foot-deep hole in a random spot in your garden. Fill the hole with water and observe how long the water drains away. Fill the hole with water a second time and watch how long it takes to drain the water away. If the water drains the second time quickly, your soil can hold water well. If it takes longer to drain, your soil has poor drainage.

The Worm Test

The Worm Test is used to determine the biological activity in the soil. If the soil shows a strong presence of microorganisms, it is rich in essential nutrients plants need to grow healthy. For example, soils with many earthworms indicate healthy soil and vigorous plants.

To do the worm test:

  1. Wait until the soil has warmed to at least 55 degrees.
  2. Using a trowel, dig a one-foot-deep, one-foot-across hole and set the soil on a piece of cardboard.
  3. Sift through the soil with your hands, checking if there are earthworms.

Ideally, you have to find at least ten worms because fewer than that means your soil; isn't supporting a healthy worm population. If you got fewer than 10, the soil might be too acidic or alkaline.

The pH Test

Checking the acidity or alkalinity of your soil is critical to successful soil amendment. On a pH scale of 0 to 14, zero is very acidic, while 14 is very alkaline. Most plants thrive in slightly neutral pH, between 6 and 7. Most plants cannot grow in soils with a pH level of five and lower or higher than 8.

To check the pH of your garden soil, you'll need to buy a pH test kit. This product is available in most home and garden supplies stores. Follow the instructions to get the most accurate results. If the soil pH is too acidic or alkaline, you must correct the problem by adding certain soil amendment products.

Testing your garden's soil on your own is simple and inexpensive. It's best done when the soil is moist but not wet. Suppose you've conducted all the tests outlined above and still have issues growing crops in your garden.

In that case, it's best to call the local cooperative extension service to collect soil samples and conduct analysis in a proper lab. Once the results are available, you will receive a report outlining mineral deficiencies and other issues that need to be corrected to grow healthy plants.

Fixing any nutrient problems can be made easier by getting a soil test. For more tips and guide like this, check out our blog. You may also visit our shop to view our eco-friendly garden tools and supplies.

We also offer humic acid soil conditioner and seaweed extract fertilizer for garden soil amendment.

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