Have you ever tried to grow a garden, and shortly after seeing all your favorite plants start to bloom, the problems begin? End bloom rot, yellow leaves or stunted growth are clear signs that the soil in your garden or planters is not up to par.
Having the correct pH level, sunlight intensity and moisture content are vital for any plants to grow to their fullest capacity.
Soil testing is the process by which you capture the statistics of your soil. Most soil testing devices are "probes" that are pushed into the ground, then display a number of different readings.
Many years ago, soil testing involved taking a sample of your dirt, and sending it off to a far-away labratory or a local university. With the advancement of technology over the last decade, this is no longer needed. There are now cheap tools that will check our soil within a matter of seconds at an accuracy that is perfectly fine for the regular do-it-yourself'er.
All soil testing tests provide one or more of the following statistics about the dirt being tested:
The US is broken up into 13 major hardiness zones, each with their subzones. This map is the standard by which gardeners and growers across the US can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a specific location. The USDA Hardiness Zones within the map are based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10°F sections.
pH is possibly the most important metric that needs measured in your houseplants or garden. pH affects everything from absorption of nutrients to the growth of beneficial bacterial and microorganisms.
Low pH is most common problem when it comes to pH levels within a garden. Lime is usually added to acidic soils to increase their pH levels. The addition of lime replaces the missing hydrogen ions and raises soil pH, which will eliminate most major problems associated with highly acidic soils. However, lime also provides two nutrients, calcium and magnesium to the soil - which are critical to healthy plants and fruit.
in the event that your soil's pH levels are too high, add compost to the affected areas. Using compost (or sometimes sulfur-coated fertilizer) will lower your soil's pH to acceptable levels that will promote healthy plants.
Spending hours and hours cultivating the perfect garden can go downhill in a very quick instant if the soil your vegetable plants is insufficient. Blossom end rot, poor water absorption and misdiagnosed sunlight levels are all issues that can effect a garden that has soil that is deficient in one or more areas that a simple soil tester would catch.
Ideally, you should test your soil a couple times a year - every year. Waiting for a plant to tell you something is wrong, is almost surely a recipe for disaster. By the time a plant calls out for help (wilting, bad fruit, no fruit, etc), it is almost too late to anything about it. Testing early and often is the way to go with these testers, especially since they are reusable for many years.
We have had the best test results by roughly dividing up our garden into the sections that held different plants (onions vs. tomatoes vs peppers vs potatoes, etc). I like to take a soil test from within each section, which will usually give me a good idea of how the plants that lived there the prior year effect the soil. You will find that each plant will change the soil it lived in slightly different from the other plants. Tilling it all over will also help "even" out the soil's mineral and pH contents.
There are three perfect times for you to test your outdoor garden's soil:
If you are looking to check your houseplant's soil, we recommend testing it every 2 months.
The problem with these high-tech soil testers such as Edyn, PlantLink and Parrot is that while the results are adequate, they do not justify their extremely high price point, which is almost $100 over the low-tech ones that work just as well.
Believe it or not, our top soil testers are all low-tech. This is one industry that has tried to modernize with WiFi or Bluetooth connected devices and apps, but has yet to come up with something worth all that extra money.
In the case of soil tests, low-tech does not mean inaccurate. Actually quite the opposite. In our tests, the low budget testing devices all out-performed their more expensive cousins, which goes to show you that high-tech is not always necessarily always better.