As all keen gardeners know, it’s not always easy getting those damn plants to grow. Sometimes it feels like no matter what you do, you can never quite achieve the expected growth. The good news is that no matter how bad things may seem, there are always things you can do that’ll push things in the right direction. It’s just that sometimes you’ll need to dig a little deeper.
For example, did you know that the pH level of your soil can significantly influence how healthy your plants can grow? It could be that you’re trying to develop a particular plant in soil that it’s just not suitable for. Understanding what type of soil you have, therefore, can do wonders for the overall health of your garden.
Of course, many of us are not scientists: we cannot take a soil sample into our home laboratories and figure things out. Thankfully, there’s an option that makes the process straightforward: a soil testing kit. They’re easy to use and understand, buy one and it won’t be long before you have some valuable knowledge about your garden’s soil.
Best pH Soil Testing Kit
This is a great value kit that will give good readings. Don’t expect precise laboratory results at this price point. Still, it is more than accurate enough for finding out your soil’s pH level. Simply stick the probe in the ground and read the results of the built-in LCD. What could be simpler?
No batteries needed, just insert the sensor probe into the soil about 2-4 inches, toggle switch to test moisture, pH, sunlight you would like to measure, then wait for a few minutes till the pointer stops swinging to get a stable reading on the scale dial. If the plant is very dry, the soil pointer will not swing, that means your plant needs water.
We found this gave fairly accurate results and is much simpler to use than other kits around this price point. There are tons of styles of this type of tester on Amazon, all mass-produced in China. This is the one we bought and tested and found it worked well, so we would recommend it.
Bosmere Soil PH Testing Kit
This is a soil pH test kit. You get a test tube where you insert a small soil sample. You then add some powder and then a pH testing liquid, shake well and allow to settle. The change of colour should then give you the soil pH level.
However, I found it incredibly frustrating trying to understand what the reading was. The colour scale has very similar shades of brown, which can mean completely different pHs. Look out our image below to see what we mean; what pH would you say the soil is?
Gardman Soil PH Testing Kit
This is the exact same kit as the Bosmere, just with different packaging. It is obviously made in the same factory in china, every part is identical. As such it suffers from the same flaws!
Garden Tutor Soil pH Test Strips
I was really hopeful for these test strips, the idea seemed simple enough, and I thought they would give an accurate reading. What I didn’t foresee would be just how difficult it would be to match up the reading to the chart for this soil test kit.
Look at the image below, the bottom peachy colour matches well, but the blue is nowhere near. If I match with the blue, then the other colours are miles off; which pH is it?
That makes this soil pH test kit almost pointless I’d say.
Best Soil Moisture Testing Kit
Immediately know the moisture level of your soil, so no more over or under-watering. You can see the soils moisture level just right.
How to use a soil testing kit
These are definitely the most straightforward soil testing kits to use, simply stick the metal rod into your soil and wait for the reading to appear on the digital screen. Job done.
Chemistry style kit
The good news is that soil testing kits all broadly work the same way, so the instructions that we outline here will most likely apply to the one that you’ve bought. The only variable is with the test solution. Sometimes, the package will include a solution that has already been prepared. Other kits will come with a powder, and you just need to add water. If your packaging doesn’t include these things or doesn’t work with the method we’ve outlined below, then consult the instructions, or get in touch with the manufacturer.
With that out of the way, let’s get into the general approach to use a soil testing kit.
The first thing to do is to grab all the equipment that you’ll need. This includes, of course, your testing kit. You’ll also want to grab a trowel and something for you to put your soil samples in, such as a mason jar or zip lock bag. Next, head out into the garden. One thing about soil is that it’s unlikely to be the same everywhere in your garden. You’ll probably be able to see for yourself that this is the case; for example, if one flower seems to do well in one area but not another. For that reason, you’ll want to take samples from various corners of the garden or allotment. You’ll be testing each sample individually. Remember to put a label on each of your samples, so that you know where it came from.
Once you’ve identified an area to sample, use your trowel to dig down. You don’t want to take samples from the top layer as this can be impacted by other things, such as mulch. Take a decent sized sample from around 5 inches below ground.
Next, sort through your samples in order to remove anything that shouldn’t be there, such as stones and twigs. They won’t be needed for the test. From there, add the soil to the container that will have come with your package.
Now you can begin the test. Add some of the barium sulphates if it’s provided. If you’re using a premade solution, add the amount that’s recommended, put the top on the container, shake, and then leave to settle for ten minutes.
If your testing kit has provided powder, mix the recommended amount with the recommended volume of distilled water, add to the container, tighten the lid, shake, and then leave to sit for ten minutes.
After ten minutes, you’ll see that the liquid in the container has changed into a colour. To figure out what soil you have, you simply need to compare that colour with the colour chart that has been provided. It’s usually pretty easy to tell what the results are, but make sure you’re holding it up to a bright light just to be sure. Just like that, you’ll know whether your soil is acidic, alkaline, or neutral.
What plants do well in acidic soil?
Most people hope that their soil is neutral, but if you’ve invested in a soil testing kit, then you probably knew that your soil wasn’t neutral. So what happens if it’s acidic? There are plenty of different types of plants that grow in acidic soil just fine, though it is true that your choice will be more limited. Still, there are more than enough options for you to have a beautiful garden.
Let’s just take a look at some of the more interesting plants that do well in acidic soil. Magnolias do exceptionally well; you’ll just want to ensure that the water is moist. The beautiful Liriope muscari also grows well; it thrives in acidic, dry, shaded soil.
The Japanese anemones are one of the more durable plants that you can buy; they do well just about everywhere. And they’re gorgeous to look at, too. The Calluna vulgaris will do well all year-round and can provide an excellent base for your garden since they live close to the ground. This is just a small selection of the plants you can grow; there are plenty more!
What plants do well in alkaline soil?
And what if you’re on the other end of the spectrum, and have alkaline soil? As with acidic soil, there are still plenty of great options for you to have in your garden.
One of the best options is Lily of the valley, which lies close to the ground and also provides a garden with a wonderful aroma. If you want to attract pollinators to your garden, then take a look at adding phacelia. Let it flower and your garden will be a hive of activity. Polemoniums and Wild marjoram are both easy to grow and can provide your garden with colour.
Changing the pH level of your soil
what if you want to grow a plant that thrives in acidic soil but yours is alkaline or vice versa? Don’t fret; changing the pH level of your soil is easily accomplished with the right knowledge and a little elbow grease. In fact, we have written a guide dedicated to changing the pH level of your garden, you can find it here.
Looking for some of the best gardening gear available? Make sure you check out my other reviews.