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How to Test Soil at Home | Ask This Old House

In this video, This Old House landscaping contractor Jenn Nawada shows host Kevin O’Connor how to use a home soil test kit to check the condition of his soil.

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Landscaping contractor Jenn Nawada teaches host Kevin O’Connor everything he needs to know about home soil test kits. Jenn explains the importance of soil testing, helping Kevin understand that he can’t fix what he doesn’t know about his yard.

You Can’t Fix What You Don’t Know
For homeowners who want to maintain a lush, green lawn or healthy plants, soil tests are important—after all, they can’t fix what they don’t know. Soil tests are essentially a screenshot of the soil’s health. They explain the soil’s condition, including its nutrients, what nutrients it lacks, and those in abundance. They will also explain the soil’s acidity, allowing the user to adjust it for prime growing conditions.

Fall is the Best Time to Test
Timing is essential; the best time to test soil is in the fall. The soil will need amending if the test comes back with too high or too low an acidity level. The homeowner can amend the soil in the fall, giving the soil time to rectify before the spring growing season.

Know Your pH
For grass to grow and take up nutrients, the soil needs to be within a certain window of acidity. The home soil test kit will explain the level of acidity in terms of pH, and the pH window for ideal grass growth is between 5.5 and 7.5 on the scale.

Where to find it?
Jen explains the importance of soil testing and how you can do it at home.

For the soil analyzer:
– Clean the prongs of the tester with distilled water and a clean cloth before use and between uses. This will keep the readings from being affected by the pH of a previous test or tap water.
– Dig a small hole, remove organic debris, and insert the prongs into the soil you wish to measure. The first reading that appears will be pH, which is measured on a scale from 1 to 14, with 1 being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline. Seven is a neutral pH. Most plants will grow in a pH between 6 and 7.5.
– These analyzers also often include a moisture reading as well. You will want the moisture to be at midrange.

Directions for P.H. strips are the same as the prong meters:
– To dig a small hole, remove organic debris and thoroughly mix and wet the soil with distilled water.
– With the strips, it helps to put a sample in a container and let it settle overnight. Don’t wipe off the strip after wetting—it will smear. Let it fully dry naturally and read the test results.

The capsule tests are as follows:
– Dig between 3-4 inches below the surface with gloved hands and take a sample of soil, mix with distilled water, transfer some of the solution to the color comparator, add powder from each capsule to separate test containers, shake and watch the color develop. Then, note your test results. You are looking for adequate to sufficient results for each.

All materials used can be found online or at local home centers.

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About Ask This Old House TV: From the makers of This Old House, America’s first and most trusted home improvement show, Ask This Old House answers the steady stream of home improvement questions asked by viewers across the United States. Covering topics from landscaping to electrical to HVAC and plumbing to painting and more. Ask This Old House features the experts from This Old House, including general contractor Tom Silva, plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey, landscape contractor Jenn Nawada, master carpenter Norm Abram, and host Kevin O’Connor. ASK This Old House helps you protect and preserve your greatest investment—your home.

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How to Test Soil at Home | Ask This Old House


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