Most gardening enthusiasts feel they know what their plants need to thrive but it’s easy to underestimate the importance of soil quality. The impact soil quality, pH, and nutrient balance have on a plant’s ability to thrive is critical.
An easy-to-use and quick test is all that’s needed to learn about your soil’s chemical properties and nutrient deficiencies. But selecting the correct soil testing equipment for the most reliable results can be a little ambiguous.
In this article, I’ll provide you with everything you need to know about the importance of testing your soil as well as a review of the best soil test kits you can buy online. These tests offer valuable data like pH readings, N-P-K analyses, and soil moisture levels, allowing you to get out there and test your soil with confidence and make the necessary soil amendments to get that bumper crop.
- Top 3 Soil and pH Test Kits
- What Is a Soil Test Kit?
- Soil Testing Services And Kits Reviewed
- 1. Soil Kit Laboratory Soil Test Kit
- 2. Luster Leaf Rapitest Soil Test Kit
- 3. Garden Tutor Soil PH Test Strips Kit
- 4. Luster Leaf Rapitest Soil Tester
- 5. XLUX Soil Moisture Tester
- 6. Houseplant 3-In-1 Soil Test Kit
- 7. Healthy Wiser 3-In-1 Light, Moisture, Soil pH Tester
- 8. Sonkir Soil pH Meter, 3-in-1 Soil Tester
- 9. Luster Leaf Rapitest Digital N-P-K, Soil pH Tester
- 10. Gouevn Soil Moisture Meter Soil Test Kit
- What Can A Soil Test Tell You?
- How Do You Use a Soil Test Kit?
- When Should You Test Your Soil?
- Verdict: Best Soil Test Kits
- FAQs Soil Testing
Top 3 Soil and pH Test Kits
If you don’t have time to delve into the entire article, feel free to check out my top recommendations below. Whether you require laboratory-quality results or just a quick and low-cost home test, I’ve recapped the best of each for you to review at a glance.
Best Laboratory Soil Test Kit
No guesswork with this professional N-P-K and mineral laboratory analysis. Main a soil sample via a pre-paid label.
Best DIY Soil Test Kit
Accurate home test kit for N-P-K and soil pH. Enough to test 40 samples of soil. Easy to use and fast results.
Best Soil pH Tester Strips
Classic pH test strips, mix soil with water and dip pH test strips. Good accuracy, easy to use, and read results.
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What Is a Soil Test Kit?
A healthy lawn, flower bed, or container needs the right environment for vibrant growth, including high-quality nutrients and good soil. By using a test kit, you can measure the condition and pH of your soil to decide which fertilizers or soil amendments are required to create the optimum growth conditions.
While soil test kits vary in appearance, most of them work in a similar manner using test tubes, chemical reaction sensors, distilled water, or plug-ins with a small soil sample. These mechanisms detect different soil qualities, including:
This is the most important nutrient that all plants need to convert sunlight into energy. Nitrogen supports the plant’s amino acids and, without it, a plant can’t make the proteins it needs to grow.
This nutrient plays an essential role in energy storage and cell growth. Without it, a plant won’t mature properly.
Potassium (or potash) is needed to regulate photosynthesis and help control the movement of nutrients, carbohydrates, and water in plant tissues.
Soil pH Levels
Soil pH is a measurement taken to read the level of acidity or alkalinity within the soil, whether that’s potting soil or the soil in your backyard. Understanding pH level can prove critical to successfully growing plants or vegetables.
The majority of plants tolerate soil pH levels somewhere between 6.0 and 7.0 but this is not necessarily their optimum condition. By taking a reading of the pH of your soil, you can decide if you need to amend it with a balancing compound such as lime to increase alkalinity or sulfur to increase acidity.
As with all things in life, there are outliers, and plants are no different. Some species sit at the far end of the pH scale and to grow these plants you may need to amend your soil. For example, popular plants such as ivy enjoy a range between 6.5 to 8.0, which is very alkaline soil. Meanwhile, azaleas thrive in acidic soil with a pH of 4.5 to 5.5. Clearly understanding soil pH can be critical to success because it allows you to create the best conditions for the plants you are looking to grow.
This applies to trees, houseplants, vegetables, grasses, and ornamental plants. If you understand their current condition, then you can amend it to create their perfect condition and have amazing, happy plants. Below is a list illustrating the pH ranges of some popular plant varieties so you can see the importance of soil amendments:
|Blueberry, high bush
Types Of Soil Testing
There are four main types of testing you can choose from:
I will get straight to the point here and confirm that no home test kit will match the accuracy and quality of the analysis you get from a laboratory test. That’s why I have included this option in my product review later in the article. I strongly recommend a lab-based test kit if you are working on a piece of land for the first time, or if you are struggling to grow the plants or vegetables of your choice.
Simply order the soil testing kit, take your soil sample, and mail it off to the lab for testing. You will get a report back showing the condition of your soil, allowing you to take corrective actions by amending the soil to suit your plant’s needs.
This type of test uses up to three metal probes to analyze the soil. By placing the metal probes into a growing medium, the natural electrical charges in the soil or grow medium is picked up and measured. This process can detect things like pH level, how much sunlight the soil is receiving, and soil moisture.
These testers are a little more tricky to get the hang of than the analog type. They use an electrical charge to test the soil composition. You’ll need batteries to operate the device. Before and after using these testers, be sure to thoroughly clean the probes with soap and water.
Chemical Testing Kits
These types of testers require you to place a small amount of soil in a special container and add water. You then add a dye capsule or droplet and shake it. The water will change color, indicating the soil’s composition.
Multi-Functional Soil Testers
Some devices on the market are multi-functional. I’ve actually included a few in my reviews below. These devices may claim to read things like moisture levels, soil pH, light exposure, and more.
It’s important to note that multi-functional soil testers tend to produce middling results when compared to more detailed testing methods. For example, you might find that one of these devices detects moisture accurately but does not do so for pH levels, or vice-versa.
You also have to question the merits of a budget light meter. Accurate light readings require a high-tech piece of equipment and are generally something reserved for the serious enthusiast or professional grower.
Soil Testing Services And Kits Reviewed
I searched high and low to find the best soil testing available for general consumer use. My main concern was the quality of the tester, including accuracy, overall performance, and ease of use.
As well as my tests and the opinions of our experts, I have also considered customer reviews across online platforms and growers’ forums to provide a broader sample of customer experiences with these specific testers.
- Professional laboratory soil analysis takes away any guesswork
- Tests soil for pH, Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K), Magnesium (Mg), Calcium (Ca), Boron (B), Zinc (Zn), Manganese (Mn), and Iron (Fe)
- The report includes recommended products to amend your soil
- All good things come to those who wait. So be prepared to wait up to a week for lab results
There is no escaping the fact that a laboratory test will be significantly better than any DIY test kit. I do use the other kits on this list, specifically Rapitest and Garden Tutor pH Strips, which are great for quick results. But part of why I can use these with confidence is that I’ve done my groundwork and tested various areas of my garden through a lab test kit.
Of the various lab services I have used, Soil Kit Laboratory Test Service is up there with the best of them. It is fast, its customer service is excellent, and the reports are very insightful. So how do you use one of these test kits?
How to use:
- Purchase your Lab Test Kit from Amazon.com here
- Register your test kit at the web address provided in the instructions within the kit
- Use the kit to take a soil sample from your garden
- Use the pre-paid envelope to mail your sample to the lab
- The laboratory analyzes your soil and provides the results in the form of a simple report
The kit is suitable for vegetable plots, flower beds, lawns, etc. The process is the same for each scenario, so it’s difficult to get it wrong. Once you have sent off the soil sample, you should get your results within 1 week. The report will identify N-P-K and mineral levels contained within your plot of soil as well as recommended products to amend your soil for optimum conditions.
For around $30 this laboratory test kit gave me a 100% accurate assessment of the condition of my garden soil, allowing me to amend flower borders in preparation. This resulted in noticeable results with lush green foliage and long-lasting blooms. If you have never tried a professional soil test, I strongly recommend you give this one a go as it will change the way you look at gardening.
Check out the latest price of the Soil Kit Lab test on Amazon.com and get perfect results without the guesswork.
Customer Reviews: Customers rated this kit as 4.9/5 for ease of use and highly recommend it.
- Capable of measuring N-P-K and pH
- Relatively accurate results compared to lab analysis
- Easy to use and quick results
- The product is limited to 40 soil tests
This innovative test kit from Luster Leaf is perhaps one of the most comprehensive testers you can find on the market. With an attached color chart, which many other kits lack, you will get four color-coded containers that analyze, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and pH levels separately.
In addition to the four containers, you will also get 40 capsules and a dropper to test your soil, with a handy guide on fertilization and an information pack for different plants’ desired pH levels. And if you were worried about losing your color chart, the good news is that it’s right on the test unit!
There are two soil pH test kits that I am very confident using, this version from Luster Leaf and the Garden Tutor pH strips below. Of course, they are two slightly different products but, with this kit, you get the added benefit of the N-P-K soil analysis.
Let’s be completely honest with ourselves, no low-cost home kit is going to match the accuracy of a laboratory test. However, when compared to a professional soil probe, the test results are surprisingly accurate considering the price of this type of test. Check the latest price of Rapitest Soil Analysis Kit. It’s the product I use, so I’m happy to recommend it to you as the best buy for soil analysis.
How to use: Simply take a small sample of the soil and put it into the tube. Add some distilled water and the appropriate capsule. Shake it and let it sit until the color has fully changed.
Customer Reviews: Despite the accuracy of the kit, there are a few complaints about the coloration of the water and the effect this has on reading the results. This is common with all home-based pH kits where you mix soil in water. It gets muddy, right? It’s really important to let the sediment settle before you take a reading — leave it for about 20 minutes for the best results.
- My favorite pH test strip based on just how simple and accurate they are to use
- Very simple to use, just dip in your soil and water mix, and dip your test strip
- 100 test strips in each bottle
- Nothing at this price
If your goal is to get a clear, simple, and accurate soil pH reading, Garden Tutor’s pH Test Strips are the right choice. I purchased these strips for the first time last spring and I was surprisingly pleased with the simplicity and accuracy of the results. There is a reason labs used pH strips for quick and basic testing. It’s because they’re simple and you cannot go far wrong.
Water directly from your tap can have an effect on the reading of your pH level for any water-based testing. Ideally, you should use distilled water. In most cases, however, tap water will be within 0.5 pH and this is usually fine for most gardeners looking for a pH range between 5.5 to 7.0.
How to use: Pour 4 tablespoons of water into a clean glass, add 4 tablespoons of your soil sample, and thoroughly mix them together. Allow the soil to settle for 20 minutes. When you are satisfied the water has cleared, dip the pH test strip.
You simply hold your test strip against the test color chart on the Garden Tutor packaging and take the pH reading.
Simple to use at home
Tests soil pH and N-P-K
- Nothing at this price
Luster Leaf Rapitest Soil Tester is a traditional chemical test, and we like it that it goes back to basics. This economical test kit for testing soil pH, Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potash (K) is simple and reliable.
The kit contains four pH test capsules and two each of N-P-K. I have always enjoyed this type of test kit and the children usually like to get involved as it’s a little bit reminiscent of the chemistry experiments they do at school. So if you don’t need ultra-accurate results, and if you don’t need to perform lots of repetitive tests, then this type of kit is always very cost-effective and fun. Check Rapitest latest price here.
How to use: Take a sample of soil preferably from around 3″ deep. Mix it with water and shake. Transfer some of the solutions to the soil comparator. Mix in the capsule and shake again. Match the color of the solution to the color chart to get your reading.
Customer Reviews: Customers who used this product gave it an overall score of 4/5, with a general appreciation of the accuracy. Some users found this soil test difficult to read due to the solution color looking muddy from the soil.
- Large 1-10 scale easy-to-read dial
- Good build quality and 18-month warranty
- No batteries required
- Limited to soil moisture testing
This soil tester from XLUX available from Amazon.com solely focuses on testing soil moisture. Simply insert the probe into the soil to get a moisture reading immediately. It really couldn’t be any easier.
Compared to some of the other products in our review, the XLUX soil tester is simple in that it only has one function but its usability and build quality are very good. The large display makes it perfect for people who require an easy-to-read option.
The XLUX sensor meter comes with an 18-month warranty to back up its build quality. No batteries are required when using this analog hygrometer for indoor plants. It’s perfect for succulents, orchids, and any other house plant where soil moisture needs monitoring.
How to use: Simply push the tester into the soil and take a reading. No batteries required
Customers Reviews: Across all major retail platforms and forums this soil hygrometer scored really well for customer satisfaction based on its simplicity and reliability. Over 10,000 users score this product 4.4/5.
- Analog design so no batteries are required
- 3-in-1 soil tester
- Good product for the price
- pH reading is not as reliable as a water-based test
The Houseplant Resource Centre’s 3-in-1 soil test kit is one of the easiest kits to use on our list. This analog design means no batteries are required, just push the probes into the soil, wait 10 seconds, and take the reading. There is a switch on the front of the meter that allows you to select any one of the three testing functions:
- Soil moisture test
- Soil pH test
- Light level test
As with most 3-in-1 testers, the inclusion of a light meter is okay but not essential. The pH tester was accurate in our test. For basic indoor plant care, the moisture tester and pH tester are great guides as to when you need to act to provide your plant with the best possible conditions. So for this purpose, we like this product.
How to use: Move the switch on the front of the probe to select the function you wish to perform. Clean probes with a damp cloth before use to ensure accurate readings. Set probes 2-3 inches into the soil between the base of the plant’s stem and the edge of the pot or container, leave for 10 seconds, then take a reading.
Customer Reviews: Customers across retail platforms and forums gave this product a solid 4.4/5.
- Scientifically accurate readings for moisture and light
- Moisture, light, and soil pH meter all in one
- Not the most accurate pH tester
With this 3-in-1 soil test kit, you get to measure the light, acidity, and moisture levels of your soil. The easy-to-read, compact device from Healthy Wiser works both indoors and outdoors. Since no batteries are required to use this analog tester, you save money and time. Simply dip the metal rods into the moist soil sample to get the readings.
The meter claims to help green-thumbed fans prevent overwatering, pest attacks, and root damage. We found the soil meter easy to use and accurate for moisture and light readings, but not as accurate for pH/acidity compared to others in our test. Check out Amazon for this soil tester.
How to use: Clean the probes thoroughly before testing. Place both probes into the soils between 2-4″ deep. Wait 10 seconds and take the reading from the meter.
Customer Reviews: A very popular soil tester, however, some people found the pH reading to be inaccurate on occasions.
- Moisture, Light, and Soil pH meter all in one
- No batteries required
- Lightweight and portable
- A little flimsy in construction
This is another convenient 3-in-1 testing kit for analyzing soil pH, moisture, and light levels. All you need to do is to adjust the needle detector to the content you are testing before inserting the prongs into 2 to 4 inches of soil. The reading will appear on the upper panel of the soil tester after 10 minutes.
Just like many other testing kits that use a needle to display the amount, the Sonkir tester doesn’t require batteries to operate. Note: as you’ll be inserting the needles directly into the soil, be sure to clean them after use. With a probe-based pH reader, it is advisable to rub the probe tips with an abrasive material to ensure they are clean.
Check the Sonkir latest price here
Customer Reviews: The majority of users were pleased with the consistent accuracy of this tester. There are a few negative comments based on the light meter function but overall scores were 4.1/5.
- It will be useful for people who struggle with color differentiation
- It is a digital reading, not a digital tester
The Luster Leaf Rapitest Electronic Soil Tester is a digital, battery-operated device designed to check nitrogen, potassium, and phosphate levels of your soil, as well as read the pH level. The product also includes a handy guide on the pH requirements of 450 common plants.
With N-P-K and pH playing a critical role in the performance of our gardens, this 2-in-1 test kit will appeal to many people as it appealed to us. However, we were surprised to see it came with small test tubes and capsules. We were expecting a soil probe to provide our results, not to perform a soil test in a conventional way then use a digital machine to read the color indicators for us.
However, we have included it on our list given that we have reviewed it and we feel it may be beneficial for anyone who has a problem seeing color or differentiating between colors, as the digital reader does this part for you. Find Rapitest Digital online here.
How to use: You mix your soil sample with the capsule and insert the test tube into the top of the meter reading and get a result.
Customer Reviews: Mixed reviews given the digital monitor is not really adding a great deal of value to the conventional test process, it scores 3.9/5.
- Easy to use and easy to read
- No batteries required
- One of the biggest selling moisture readers online
- Limited to soil moisture testing
The Gouevn Soil Moisture Meter is a single-probe test kit designed for checking soil moisture levels. Very similar to the XLUX moisture meter, it displays a nice large meter reading on a scale of 1-10, with a range of 4-7 indicating an average moisture reading.
This kit includes a watering guide for over 200 plants printed onto the back of the packaging, which some customers may find useful. I would say the build quality in our opinion is not as good as the XLUX when comparing the two moisture testers, however, Gouven is one of the best-selling products of this type. Both have won over a large audience when it comes to keeping soil in tip-top condition.
All probe-based products must be cleaned regularly and rubbed down with an abrasive such as very light sandpaper, wire wool, or wire brush for best results.
How to use: Clean the probe and place it 2-4″ into the soil. Leave it for 10 seconds and take a reading.
What Can A Soil Test Tell You?
Only a soil test kit can help you understand your soil’s needs by measuring how much salt is in the soil, diagnosing soil pH levels, and analyzing the organic materials present.
You should never wait for signs of poor vegetative growth before testing your soil. Just like a routine health check, soil testing should be done often to identify what your soil deficiencies may be and which nutrients are replenished through the growing season. Only then will you know which fertilizers you should use.
Healthy soil needs three main components — potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen — for ideal plant growth. It should be moist and soft so the roots can travel easier. If it’s too dry, it needs watering more consistently. If there are not enough nutrients, add the essential components by way of fertilizers. Rather than guessing what your soil needs, a test kit will save you time and money by giving you accurate readings.
How Do You Use a Soil Test Kit?
Most chemical soil testers are straightforward as long as you follow the instructions. If you’re using a capsule or powder test, all that’s required is to add the amount and mix well.
Once you’ve prepared the mix, make sure it goes into the soil sample evenly and allow it to sit for a few minutes. The soil should change color quite quickly, so you’ll know immediately what nutrients you need to add.
If you want to test the moisture level of your soil, it’s best not to leave the sample out of the ground as it will dry out and not produce accurate results. So the sooner you test the soil moisture, the better.
If you’re testing the soil using a liquid tester, simply add the liquid to the test sample by mixing or shaking it into the soil. Leave the sample to sit for 10 minutes. The soil-and-water mixture should change colors, expressing its chemical makeup.
Macronutrient testing determines the main nutrients that your soil is lacking. Most fertilizers have a string of numbers (N-P-K) that tell you what the ratios of potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen are. However, what these fertilizers can’t tell you is whether your soil has too many of these nutrients to start with.
It is, therefore, important to perform macronutrient testing of your soil to establish if it needs an adjustment of nitrogen, potassium, or phosphorus.
Many people overlook the micronutrient needs of their soil. The vast majority of home soil test kits only analyze the basic nutrients, moisture, and acidity. There are other nutrients that your plants also need to grow. Some of these micronutrients include iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium. To analyze these elements you will need a laboratory test kit such as Soil Kit Laboratory Soil Test Kit.
Soil pH Meter
Testing the acidity and alkalinity of your soil is another important part of any analysis. Most plants prefer a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Depending on what type of plant you’re growing, you will need to adjust the pH level of your soil based on the reading of the test kit.
How To Test Soil pH Levels At Home with Strips and Solutions
You can test your soil’s pH levels at any time to determine how effectively your soil can hold nutrients. Just follow these simple steps to test your soil’s pH levels:
Step 1. Using a hand shovel, dig 3 to 4 inches deep to obtain a soil sample from your lawn or garden. Or simply take a sample from your potted plant.
Step 2. Remove any debris from the soil.
Step 3. Add 1 cup of water to the soil and stir thoroughly until it turns into a cloudy solution.
Step 4. Let the sediment settle. This takes around 20-30 minutes
Step 5. For solution-based kits, transfer some of the water into the test tube and add the test solution or powder and shake to mix. For test strips, simply dip a test strip into the muddy water solution for three seconds.
Step 6. Hold your test solution or test strip against the manufacturer’s color comparison chart to check your test results.
When Should You Test Your Soil?
The best time to test your soil depends on the plants you are growing. Different plants have different growing seasons but, generally speaking, it’s best to test your soil before planting in the spring. A soil test before seeding in spring will inform you of what you need to add to your soil for a healthier growing season.
It is also recommended to test your soil again in the fall. Since the winter season takes its toll on the plants and the soil, testing helps you prepare accordingly. Only a soil test will tell you what nutrients you need to add to the soil before the cold weather sets in.
In addition to spring and fall, you should also test your soil whenever your plants go through environmental changes, such as heavy rains, cold snaps, and heat waves as all these factors can play a huge role in the soil’s health. To ensure a consistent growing environment, test the moisture levels during this time.
As a rule of thumb, soil samples should be taken around 2 or 3 months before planting to ensure you have plenty of time to apply the right nutrients and adjust your soil’s pH level. While soil tests can be done at any time of the year, spring and fall are the ideal seasons. Just make sure you do the testing at the same time every 1 or 2 years. Soils change, so you need to keep in touch with their flow.
Verdict: Best Soil Test Kits
For total confidence, there is only one approach…and that is the Soil Kit Laboratory Soil Test Kit service. No guesswork and 100% accurate results within a week.
Best Laboratory Soil Test Kit
Remove the guesswork with this professional laboratory test kit. Take a sample and mail it via a pre-paid label. N-P-K and mineral analysis.
A great way of starting a new garden or keeping an old one healthy is by using a soil tester. They can help you understand the nutrients your soil needs and in what quantity. For pH and N-P-K analysis, the Luster Leaf Rapitest Soil PH Test Kit is a great option. For testing soil moisture of houseplants, I recommend the XLUX Soil Moisture Tester as a fair-priced, reliable product. Finally, if you just want a simple and very effective pH test strip, the one stand-out product that I have used with confidence Garden Tutor Soil PH Test Strips Kit.
Best Soil pH Tester Strips
Classic pH test strips, mix soil samples with water and dip the pH test strips. Good accuracy, easy to use, and read results.
By taking samples at the right intervals, you’ll be able to improve crop quality and increase tolerance to pests and diseases. Get the most out of your plants, flowers, and vegetables by conducting regular testing, and adjust your soil to meet your crop’s needs.
Whether you prefer a digital meter or a more conventional chemical test kit, there are plenty of good options for you to choose from on this list.