Different plants need different amounts of nutrients in which to grow. They also require different soil pH levels. Most avid gardeners will know exactly what their plants need to thrive. The problem is knowing which of these nutrients are missing from the soil already. With the help of a soil tester, this stress and worry is taken away as you’ll discover exactly what’s in your soil and what nutrients you need to add to create the best conditions for your plants.
Choosing a soil tester
There are a lot of soil testers available on the market at the moment. And while they all aim to do the same thing, some are certainly better than others. Getting to know a little more about the product you intend to buy can save you a great deal of time and money in the long run.
The following section will take you through some of the things to look out for when looking for a decent soil tester to buy. It will also explain the different kinds of soil testers available so you can see which may be best to suit your needs.
Soil testers fall into two basic categories:
1. Chemical. Most chemical soil testers available are relatively easy to use. Simply place a little soil into the vial and add enough water to fill it, drop in the correct capsule for the type of soil nutrient you want to test for, then, give it a little shake. Once the time as recommended by the manufacturer has passed (this varies across tests), the color of the liquid will give you a rough estimate as to the nutrient levels of the soil.
2. Digital. These testers consist of a probe that gets immersed in the soil and a handheld monitor in which to display the results. Over the past few years digital soil testers have overtaken chemical soil testers in popularity for a few reasons:
- Multiple uses. Most digital soil testers will last quite a while. In fact, if you buy smart the first time, you may never need to buy another in your lifetime. Simply use it, clean it, and use it again!
- Accuracy. These soil testers are far more accurate than any chemical tester. They will help you understand exactly what nutrients your plants need in order to produce the best possible results.
- Less mess. With a digital soil tester, unlike traditional chemical testers, there’s virtually no mess involved. Simply take your tester out to your soil and immerse the probe fully in it. Within a few seconds, you’ll have all the answers you need to make your plants thrive.
- Price. Most digital soil testers are better value than chemical soil testers. The initial cost is often lower and they can be used multiple times.
What’s it testing?
That may sound like a silly question, but not all soil testers test the same things. The most common things for these devices to test are:
- pH level readings. This is the most vital feature that any soil tester must possess as knowing your soil’s pH levels will allow you to give your plants just what they need. A neutral pH measures in at 7, and anything less is considered to be acidic. Soil that’s too acidic will prevent valuable nutrients from reaching the plants.
- Conductivity readings. Most testers will do this in two ways – by measuring the soil’s electrical conductivity to find its nutrient levels and by checking the soil’s total dissolved solids (TDS) to see how much fertilizer already exists within it.
- Temperature. Different plants grow at different temperatures. Knowing the temperature of your soil will let you know what you can and can’t grow. To get an accurate reading, make sure you measure it at the depth of the plant opposed to just the surface.
- Moisture levels. Measuring the volume of water in the soil is the most accurate and effective way to water your plants. A soil tester that tests moisture levels will let you know if your soil’s too wet, dry, or just right.
As with most products these days, prices do vary when it comes to soil testers. But, as a general guide, you should expect to pay somewhere in the region of $20 – $100 for a chemical soil testing kit (depending on what you’re testing), and between $15 and $140 for a digital soil tester.
When it comes to soil testers, you get what you pay for most of the time. If you invest very little, expect poor quality and substandard results. That being said, there are also soil testers out there that are all song and dance yet have nothing to back it up.
A lot of choosing the right soil tester comes down to finding the right balance between price and quality. But any soil tester that’s worth purchasing should be built to last for at least a couple of years.
Before making your purchase, you should be aware of how the different soil testers work. For example, some will only work in very damp soil, in which case you’ll have to water it, wait a few hours, and then take a reading. This can be both time consuming and frustrating.
Length of the probes
This will of course, only apply to those using digital soil testers. A lot of people forget to take the length of the probe into consideration when buying a digital soil tester, but it’s an important point to think about.
In order to get the best reading, the probe needs to be fully immersed in the soil. If not you are likely to get a false reading and are in danger of feeding your plants the wrong nutrients.
This is a very important aspect to consider when buying a soil tester as there’s not much point in buying a nice, fancy machine, only to not have a clue how to use it. A decent soil tester shouldn’t be hard to use. It should have a clear to read display and not take much effort to get the readings you’re after.
There are additional features to look out for that can also help you achieve the best results in your garden. Light sensors are a common one. These work by detecting how much light penetrates on your plants to ensure you have them in the best possible position.
Replaceable electrodes are another feature to look for in digital soil testers as may save you money later on. There’s no need to fork out for a whole new tester when you can simply replace the electrode.
Now that you know about some of the things to look out for when shopping for your next soil tester, it’s time to take a look at some of the most popular models on the market right now:
Sun Port 3-in-1 Soil Moisture Meter
Get more for your money with this very useful 3-in-1 soil tester on offer from Sun Port. Not only does it test the moisture content in your soil, but it also tests the pH and how much light your plants are getting. And with 20cm long probes, you can ensure you’re getting an accurate reading with this tester.
You can use the Sun Port soil tester in both wet or dry soil and there’s no need for any batteries or external power source. Readings are clear to see and overall it’s super easy to use. It’s durable, easy to use, and has a display that’s pretty easy to understand.
Antonki 3-Way Soil pH Meter Tester Kit
With the Antonki 3-Way Soil pH Tester Kit, you can monitor your plants growth the smart way. The tester’s dual sensor probes work to a high precision and can read more accurately than many other testers available.
There are no batteries needed and it’s so simple to use. Immerse the probes plant depth into your soil, wait for a few minutes, and then get your readings. Armed with this information, you can then adjust the moisture content, nutrient level, or light as necessary and watch your plants thrive. It’s solid, works well, and is very affordable.
Sonkir Soil Tester MS02 3-in-1 Plant Moisture Sensor
Get to know what your plants are missing with this fantastic 3-in-1 soil tester on offer from Sonkir. Surprisingly, considering how inexpensive it is, this is actually one of the most accurate soil testers on the market right now. The dual prongs allow for precise measuring of both moisture and pH, while the light sensor attached to the dial lets you know if your plants are getting enough sun.
It’s super easy to use as you can switch modes with a simple flick of a button. You don’t need to worry about any batteries, and your results will be displayed on the easy-to-read screen in a matter of minutes. It even comes with a 12-month hassle free warranty should you have any problems.
Soil Savvy - Soil Test Kit Service
Stepping away from the digital testers mentioned above, here we have a comprehensive and unique way to test your soil. If you’re looking for a full analysis of just what nutrients are in your soil, then the Soil Savvy Test Kit Service may be just what you’re after. Rather than just take a partial reading of your soil using a digital soil tester, why not get the whole picture from a detailed lab report?
Simply collect a soil sample from your garden and ship it off using the prepaid envelope. Then within 10 days, you’ll receive a personalized report showing the exact level of 14 different nutrients within your soil as well as its pH level.
Longruner Moisture Meter Indoor/Outdoor
While this soil tester is very easy to use and pretty well made, there’s not much else going for it. The fact that it only tests for moisture levels puts it at a disadvantage straight away compared to the others on the list.
That being said, when it comes to testing moisture levels, you can’t fault it. It displays clear results and fast. But being a one trick pony at the same cost as others that are offering more, isn’t going to get you very far.
Buying a decent soil tester shouldn’t be too difficult. Once you’ve decided on what it is you want to test and how comprehensive you need the results to be, the rest will be simple. Just remember that a low price doesn’t always indicate a bargain. It may be low for another reason, such as it only tests for limited data.
We hope you found the above review article useful and have now made up your mind as the type of soil tester you’d like to invest in. The best model around at the moment (in our opinion), is the Sun Port 3-in-1 Soil Moisture Meter. It’s 3-way functionality enables you to measure your soil’s pH levels, moisture content, and the amount of light your plants are getting. The price is reasonable, and it’s very well made.