Soil Testing Methods

 Understanding soil testing methods may be the key if you're having difficulty getting your garden established. Soil quality can promote flourishing amounts of weeds or thriving flowers and plants.

The types of soil are chalk, clay, loam, sand and silt.  Geographic locations around the world can have one soil type or a combination.  The same for your yard.

There may even be the combination of completely
healthy areas in your lawn and other areas where the soil
health is out of balance and vegetation struggles to get established.

Red-Acidic Soil , Yellow-Neutral Soil , Blue-Alkaline Soil , Black-No Data


Imbalances can be a result of the age of the lawn and treatments with fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides over the years along with drainage conditions.

Don't throw good money away after bad by buying abundant amounts of fertilizers. This is not a guarantee to solve soil problems. Learning about any imbalances in soil starts first with investing in a soil testing kit. These soil testing kits measure the pH of soil and if you are pinching pennies many can be a less expensive than other soil testing methods.

How a pH soil test works

The pH scale is based on numbers 0 through 14 with 7 being the mid-point, which is neutral. As values decrease from 7 they are acidic with 0 being extremely acidic soil. As values increase from 7 they are alkaline, with 14 being the extreme.

Extreme acidity or alkalinity can hinder plant and flower growth, even leaving them vulnerable to plant diseases.

Most plants and grasses grow best between 6.0 and 7.0. Even better is 6.5 to 7.0, or slightly more acidic. This is because most nutrients for plant life are found in this range. Plants really thrive at exactly 6.5.

Soil ranging between 5.0 to 8.0 is considered satisfactory. Some shrubs and flowers, such as Azaleas, Camellias, Gayfeather and Red Milkweed grow best at about 5.0 soil acid.

The eastern United States has higher soil acidity. To raise soil pH lime is added.

Lime (limestone) is the cornerstone to highly efficient soil. Micro-organisms flourish and soil structure is improved. When lime content is balanced herbicides and fertilizers are most effective.

Two types of limestone are used to correct garden soil pH:

  • Calcitic limestone which is calcium carbonate only. It comes in white powder form.
  • Dolmitic limestone which is calcium carbonate with added magnesium carbonate. This usually comes in a brown granular form.

There is another fast acting hydrated lime that is called 'Quicklime'. It is important to wear gloves, safety glasses, face mask and cover arms and legs. It is caustic and causes burns.

Other methods that help raise soil pH are adding bonemeal, crushed oyster or clam shells, crushed marble, eggshells and wood ashes.

Although the western United States has its share of acidic soil, there is more alkaline soil to be found than in the eastern states.

To lower soil pH elemental sulfur is added. There are 2 forms, powdered and granulated, where each requires gloves, safety glasses and a face mask.

Other solutions include adding acidic an organic soil amendment such as cottonseed meal, pine needles, wood shavings, peat moss, leaf mold and sawdust (especially beech or oak).

Either way, to lower soil pH is more difficult to do than raising it. Both, however, are a slow, steady process.

Phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen in soil are also very important and necessary when doing any kind of garden soil testing. These are the basis of mineral nutrients.

  • Phosphorus in soil is necessary for the roots. Acidic soil is usually lacking phosphorus.
  • Potassium in soil is necessary because it helps plant growth from roots all the way to the top of the leaves.
  • Nitrogen is soil is important for the plants growth touched by the sunlight. Nitrogen builds chlorophyll. Soil lacking nitrogen can appear yellowish in color.

How to Test Your Soil

There are two primary soil testing methods available

  • 1st:
    Purchase a soil test kit
    at garden centers, plant nurseries and other stores.

         Soil test kits purchased over the counter can range in
         price depending on what they do. Of these types of
         tests the most widely used are Litmus pH paper and
         the Soil pH meter.

         When doing this one of soil testing methods your results
         will include:

                   *pH of soil

                   *Relative amounts of Phosphorus, Potassium
                     and Nitrogen in soil.

  • 2nd:
    Collecting a soil sample and sending it
    for analysis to a professional soil testing lab.

          When sending a soil samples into a lab the results
          that come back offer a larger break down of soil than
          the home pH test. Your local garden store or nursery
          should be able to guide you in finding labs. Another
          good start is to contact your county extension
          service office.  Be prepared to send in up to twelve
          samples from various areas of your yard.

          When sending a soil sample in it takes about one month
          for the results to come back. This option of the soil
          testing methods details soil analysis and many soil
          testing labs offer suggestions on solving any
          problems. Included in this test will be:

                   *pH of soil

                   *Amounts of Phosphorus, Potassium and
                     Nitrogen in soil

                   *Organic matter breakdowns

Once you begin to apply Limestone, Sulfur and other
soil amendments it is a slow process.

Corrections should be applied in several small applications. This is highly effective as compared to one big application. It is also more cost efficient.

It is also recommended testing soil pH every month your first growing season while making amendments and the second year. As improvements remain from these previous years garden soil testing can then start to be done every 2 to 3 years.

While going through this process you may find this information an interesting point to note..

Having an abundance of earthworms is a good sign of healthy soil. It indicates the food web is strong because they feed on organic matter. This presence of earthworms helps to improve humus in soil, drainage and establishing roots of plants. So if you are wondering if you should look into soil testing methods, consider this as well.

More soil testing method bits:

  • pH means "Potential to Hydrogen" or "Power to Hydrogen". Soil health is measured by the concentration of hydrogen ions. To help we 'non-science types', in 1909 Danish bio-chemist SPL Sorensen simplified this into what we now call the pH scale.

    The pH scale is used for just about everything measuring acid level to alkaline. It is used for blood analysis to pool care. In our case, soil testing methods.

  • Too much Acid = Sour

         Acid is the base to salts. There are different kinds of
         acids such as hydrochloric, phosphoric and citric acid.
         These acids are found in products like mineral
         stain removers, bathroom cleaners, various metal
         cleaners to rust removers.

  • Too much Alkaline = Sweet

         Alkaline is the base for hydroxides such as sodium,
         potassium and ammonium. These are cleaners like
         soaps, cleansers, oven cleaners and drain openers.

Related Articles:

How To Test Your Soil -
         Try doing a home soil test before spending any money!

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