Every once in a while, it’s a good idea to assess your soil. You’re looking for things like salinity (salt levels), pH (acidity or alkalinity), texture, moisture, and nutrients. You can also test the EC (electrical conductivity) and TDS (total dissolved solids). Test several spots in the same garden.
The best soil testing kit is suitable for your soil type and readily available in your locality. Some samples are taken to labs or testing. Others are mailed to online testing facilities. Or you can use a home kit to interpret the results yourself. Let’s begin with popular testing kits.
The Best Soil Testing Kit In UK 2021
1. Morthan 4-in-1 Moisture Meter
If you’re a first-time tester, you’ll be drawn towards the Morthan. It looks clean and elegant. And it seems so simple. Just stick it in the ground and take your readings! But as it turns out, you need a few extra steps to ensure accuracy. To avoid damaging the peg, dig the hole before placing the tool into the soil. Use your hand to comb through the soil and break up any clumps.
You want the soil damp, which is easy enough in this climate. Reason being pH means Potential of Hydrogen … and you can’t detect H2 molecules in dry soil. So if it’s been dry for a day or three, pre-fill the hole with rainwater and mix it into slick mud. Put the probe into this puddle and hold it there for half a minute. That gives you the most effective results or acidity or alkalinity.
But remember, this is a 4-in-1 soil testing kit. So apart from pH, you can also test or sunlight, temperature, and moisture. These three metrics are best done on dry soil, so leave the pH test or last. The tool has a rear switch that indicates pH if you slide it left and shows the rest if you slide it right. The light sensor picks sunlight and displays 9 levels while the pH monitor has 12 levels.
Light levels are important for photosynthesis and growth. Plus some plants need shade to thrive, so measuring the solar radiation in addition to soil temperature is essential. You can also observe moisture at 5 levels and toggle temperature from °F to °C. You can read the results at a glance and understand them intuitively – the icons help (raindrop, shining sun, degree sign etc.)
The gadget is a foot long and the probe takes up 20cm of that. Meaning you’ll get effective metrics far below ground. Its width is 6cm and the device is battery-powered so the screen goes dark after a minute to extend battery life. The buttons below the large LCD screen are for ‘On’ and ‘C/F/Off’. Or storage, a probe cap prevents the tip from getting blunt or poking things.
This soil testing meter resembles a king-sized meat probe. And it can solve all your soil issues if you use it correctly and act on your results. It weighs about 150g but needs a long storage spot.
- Its digital readout is easy to understand.
- The 20cm probe provides deeper readings.
- The tester is comprehensive – no additional strips or chemicals.
- Readings can be inaccurate if you don’t use it correctly.
2. Garden Tutor pH Test Strips
Do you ever just feel lost in the garden? You’re frustrated because things won’t grow the way you want and you can’t tell why. The Garden Tutor will gladly help and teach you a few tricks. But pay attention – this is a complicated class. You’ll need to watch video demos so you know what to expect – this isn’t a stick-and-read soil test. You’ll have to figure out colour codes and strips.
The kit comes with a 16-page instruction booklet, so that tells you how involving it can be. But it’s glossy with photos so it’s not as draining as regular product guidelines. And like many strip tests, it focuses on soil pH and individual nutrients. So you’ll need a probe tester in case you’d like to verify your garden’s levels of water and sunshine. It could be important or plant training.
Think of it this way. Are your hydrangeas blue instead of pink (or vice versa)? Playing with the pH o your soil could completely reverse that floral ‘gender reveal’. Just collect some soil, mix it with water, let the mud settle, then stick it with a testing strip. Hold the strip against the bottle to compare and confirm your soil’s pH. Don’t toss used bottles – you may need that chart later!
While these strips are simple and easy to use, they have some flaws. Here in the UK, our soil is mostly clay. So it may be difficult to separate and settle the soil efficiently. And that makes it tricky getting an accurate reading. Also, this testing kit isn’t as keen in mid ranges. Ordinarily, 6.5 is a good pH for fruits and vegetables, so you’re not too worried about near-neutral results.
But this test does its best work in the 3 to 4 and 8 to 9 ranges. Its medians are not as accurate, probably because those are safe spaces to plant in. So if you’re doing a general test or tweaking your garden from extreme acidity to extreme alkalinity (or the other way around), this testing kit is fine. But if you want to customize around the 6s and 7s, this kit won’t cut it. Try another type.
Garden Tutorial is a good introduction to strip testing kits. But it’s most effective for soil that is distinctly acidic or alkaline. You won’t get clear results or mid-range pH ratings.
- The handbook has detailed usage instructions.
- You can do up to 100 tests per pack.
- The colour chart is printed on the bottle for easy reference.
- You can only test pH ratings between 3.5 and 9 and it’s more accurate at its extremities.
3. Essentials pH Tester
Does this soil kit tester look odd to you? That’s probably because it’s built or hydroponic gardens. That’s when you grow food vertically in perorated pipes. So it most often checks the pH of your aquatic garden. But you can also use it or testing regular soily gardens. You just have to mix the soil with water and let it settle before you can test the ‘muddied’ water or soil pH.
Because it’s mostly used underwater, this device is water-resistant. (As opposed to waterproof since it’s never fully submerged.) The tester has a cap on it, and you should always keep the cap on when the tester is in storage. This prevents the meter’s ball from drying out and becoming unusable. Rinse the meter before and after every use to avoid contamination by dust particles.
Using this pH meter is easy. Just dip it into water (or the liquid section in dissolved soil). Wiggle it a bit to dislodge air bubbles. Hold the meter in position for 20 to 30 seconds. The LCD screen will then lash a pH reading and the digits will stabilise. This reading is ‘temperature-adjusted’ which means the heat (or chilliness) of your soily solution won’t influence the pH reading.
It’s easy to toss your tester aside and forget about it. It probably gets stashed among the remote controllers until the next time you want it. So you risk draining the battery while it’s idle. Luckily, the gadget has a power-saving feature so it shuts itself off to conserve power. It also has a low-battery indicator. When you need to test under dark leaves, the backlit LCD helps.
The ‘active ingredient’ in this soil tester is glass. More specifically, there’s a small glass ball at the tip of the tester. It looks a bit like the infrared ball you see on remote controllers. This is the part that takes soil reading, which is why you should always keep it covered. If it’s exposed, it will dry. And stop working. That said, the glass can withstand long drops and intense falls.
This soil tester looks weird because it’s built or growing plants underwater. But it’s just as effective testing soil. And it floats so even if it lands in a bucket, pull it out quickly and it’s fine.
- It’s shockproof and water-resistant.
- The device lasts up to 3 years.
- The tester will warn you when its battery is low.
- Yes, the warranty is 3 years. But it can only do 365 tests. So if you use them all up in a year …
4. Bluelab Pensoil pH Test
You probably know a lot o ‘pens’ that have no relation to written words. Like EpiPens or allergies. Or vape opens for leisure. Or conductivity pens or electricians. Here’s one more – a soil testing pen. It looks like a digital thermometer that has a shaft on the end. And it’s this ‘probe’ that does the testing. It’s rather large or a pen – 13.2 inches long and 2.3 inches wide.
Using this soil pH pen sounds complex, but it’s simpler than you’d think. Watch a video tutorial before you start. It will ease your nerves and trim down your intimidation levels. Before testing, you need to calibrate the pen. Place its probe in clear water that has a proven pH o 7. Hold it there and long-press until the readout says ‘CAL’ to confirm calibration. Then rinse and repeat.
But this time, dip it in a pre-tested solution whose pH is either 10 (alkaline) or 4 (super acidic). Once the LCD shows a tick, you’re all set. Rinse the probe then dip it into the soil (solution) you’re trying to test. The pen can be used directly in soil, water, growing media like coconuts, banana trunks, or even rock-wool. It has a lanyard so you can hang it somewhere convenient.
The tip of this probe is a hollow glass tube. To keep it protected, a plastic cap sits on it. The cap has a pointy tip. You can use this tip when you’re assessing soil or solid matter. Use the tip to ‘pre-drill’ a hole that you can later dip the glass into. This facilitates keener accuracy without damaging the glass. It’s a lightweight device that’s well under 100g. (It’s 0.15lbs, about 70g.)
Bluelabs is a trusted Kiwi brand that’s widely available across these British Isles. And their soil pH pen ships with calibrating solutions at 4, 7, and 10pH. It’s a fragile test so keep the cap on!
- It has built-in temperature compensation.
- The backlight helps when you’re testing undergrowth.
- It comes with a 1-year limited warranty.
- They tend to die quite quickly once the warranty expires …
5. Bornfeel pH Test Strips
When a product reminds you to read its instructions before use, you may be in trouble. If the instructions are unintelligible (or written in a different language), you’re sunk. Fortunately, this is the internet age and you can Google anything. Including ‘How to muse Bornfeel strips.’ These strips are used in multiple health situations. You can test saliva, urine, fish tanks … and soil.
The soil testing kit is packaged in the form of six little booklets. They look like the perforated receipt books from trains, theatrical shows, or corner shops. Each book has 80 strips so you just pull one out and dip it in the solution you want to test. It will change colour to indicate the solution’s chemical content. Check the strip against the included colour chart to confirm its pH.
The colour swatch is numbered and the key shows samples of items with that pH. Water is 7, vinegar is 3 and bleach is 13. Apple juice and orange juice are both 4. This is a useful guide if you’re unfamiliar with pH terms. It gives you a mental picture of what you’re dealing with. Testing strips can be frustrating when the colouration isn’t clear or the strips are too flimsy.
Bornfeel uses extra-thick card-like paper for the strips. So they won’t disintegrate when they get wet. And they ‘catch’ colour quickly so you can get your reading in moments. These can be a fun tool for kids, whether they’re testing the pH o common household items or working with you in the garden. Set up a little outdoor lab outdoor them and bring them soil samples to test.
Testing strips are among the most convenient way to test soil samples. Dissolve the soil in water first. The strip changes colour within seconds. The strips test the full pH spectrum from 1 to 14.
- It’s primarily used on soil but works on fluids too.
- Each box has 6 packs with 80 testing strips each.
- The colour swatch is easy to follow.
- The instructions aren’t in English …
6. Sonkir 3-in-1 Soil Tester (Our Top Pick)
What are your views on technology and mechanisation? Some of us think machines do everything better. We have electric hairbrushes and Wifi in the fridge. (Hello Internet of Things!) Then we have luddites. They swear by manual devices in any shape or form. If you’re in the latter category, you will love this soil sensor. It has frequency dials instead of digital feeds.
And it’s built to be pressed directly into damp soil. No mixing solutions, no reagents, no measuring minutiae. Just ensure the soil is wet and stick it in. Yes, you can pre-water if it hasn’t rained that day. Like similar products, it won’t respond to dry soil. And while it has the standard three-toggle switch, it has two probes as well. One probe is for pH and one is for soil moisture.
Do the moisture test before adding water to the soil. Slide the switch to ‘moisture’ and note the results before checking the pH. Rain won’t contaminate the result because rainfall is a valid metric or soil moisture. This meter can’t specify nutrients by name, but it can check the light levels that hit and/or penetrate the soil. The light sensor sits below the frequency dials.
It can detect from 0 to 2000 lux. And while the entire device is a foot long and the probe section is 7.9 inches, you only dip 2 to 4 inches of it into the soil. The boxy shape of the meter head provides more surface area or the frequency needles and markings. So you get a more accurate (and detailed) reading than you would from rounded, elliptical, or teardrop-shaped pH meters.
Visually, the shape and design of this pH meter will impress you. The aluminium and copper probes offer task separation while the enlarged ‘screen’ makes the meter easier to read.
- It has two distinct probes.
- This analogue device doesn’t need batteries.
- It doesn’t need batteries or power sources.
- The pH sensor has a limited range of 3.5 to 8.
7. Luster Leaf Rapitest Soil Test Kit
Your reason for testing is a big part of your selection. This Luster Leaf Rapitest test is optimised for specificity. The pack has 40 tests, but they’re ten a piece or particular uses. There are 10 tests or pH in general (though the test only detects 4.5 to 7.5pH.) Then there are ten tests each for potassium, phosphorous, and nitrogen. But the test doesn’t give numerical nutrient responses.
Instead, it gives you a generic assessment of which elements are ‘too much’ and which ones are ‘too little’. But it makes up for this with a plant list. If your purpose or testing is to figure out what you should plant, this tester has recommended pH, nutrient ratios, and growth specs for 450 plants. This is an American product, which explains a lot. Including the loud colour selection.
But this is one instance where you won’t begrudge the yanks their volume. Their sensibilities have ‘dumbed down’ this product to ensure even a child could use it. And the bright colours are a big part of that. Each of the four tests is colour coded with charts and matching capsules. The capsules have testing reagents. Break them into your soil solution and check against the swatch.
While these pills are ideal for shipping, cracking them for use is tricky. They often spill their powder content everywhere. But capsules are easier than tiny spoons seemingly built or bugs. You also get an eyedropper to easily manage your test sample. The test takes a few minutes to ‘develop’. And it offers the perfect bonding tool to teach kids patience, science, and gardening.
When you need detailed information on what nutrient to add, reduce, or counter, this colour-coded test is a charm. And it gives your kids an excuse to get dirty playing with soil and water.
- The pack has hints on the best pH or 450 plants.
- It identifies individual nutrients.
- You get 40 tests in total.
- It only tests pH ratings from 4.5 to 7.5.
Why are you testing your soil? Are you a new resident trying to figure out the best thing to grow? Or have you been gardening for a while and certain sections of the yard keep flopping? Could be you want to apply herbicides, pesticides, and fertilisers so you need guidance on what to add where. So let’s explore some actors to consider as you shop for the best soil testing kit.
Ease of Use
Manual testers often have dials and meters in them. These are the easiest ones to use since they give you a visceral result – just watch the dial dance! These testers often have prongs you press into the ground. The tines are only a few inches long, and they need to be in contact with the soil to give you a reading. You’d have to squat, kneel, or lie down at weird angles to read the meter.
Other test kits are more lab-oriented. You get a series of tubes, spoons, specimen jars, colour charts, and chemical primers. They’re not complex, but it’s more labour-intensive. You have to collect soil, mix it with water, let it settle, add the testing reagent, then compare the resulting colour against the chart. You have to get the measurements just right – it’s a lot of work.
Are you looking or the absence (or presence) of a certain chemical? Some tests focus on how damp the soil is, the texture, and maybe even the type of soil. This can be crucial because different parts of the garden may have different soil mixes. It’s why you always test multiple spots – at least a dozen. Other tests focus on pH or light levels as related to photosynthesis.
Then some tests specify individual nutrients. Mostly phosphorous, potassium, and nitrogen. These can help you decide the chemical ratio (NPK) of fertilisers. It can also help you decide the type of product to use. Seaweed and grass clippings (or compost or mulch) are high in phosphorous and potassium. These tests can guide you on what grows best at that specific pH.
Before you get too deep in the science, you should start with basic ‘old school’ tests. Pass some soil through your fingers to feel its texture and dampness. If you know what it ‘should’ smell like, you can do a sniff test … but for most of us, that’s like tapping a melon and holding it against your ear. You do it because everyone else does, but you don’t know what you’re meant to spot.
So focus on the quality of results. Labs can record pH down to 0.001. Others taper off at +/- two pH units. Accuracy can also depend on the type of test you’re using. pH strips might be clearer than comparing colours in clear jars. Especially if the chart has started to fade … or if the lighting in the room shifts. The time of year matters too since nitrogen tests are best done in the spring.
Get Your Hands Dirty!
After all this sniffing around, we recommend buying the Sonkir. Here’s why:
- It has a copper probe for water and an aluminium probe for pH.
- The readout ‘screen’ is bigger so it fits more words and measurements.
- It’s a three-in-one test for light, moisture, and pH.
- Its three-way slide switch lets you easily toggle between these three.
- Soil moisture is detected on a scale of 1 to 10.
- The analogue device doesn’t need batteries or power sources.
- The probes are 0.2 inches thick.
What soil testing kits have you tried? Tell us about it (or show us samples) in the comments!