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.
- Dual probes
- Durable casing
- 12-month warranty
- Easy to use
- 3-way testing
- Unique service
- Super accurate
- A little expensive
- Clear display
- Only one probe
- Accuracy not very good
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: