You might assume that all soil in Texas is the same, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Texas is actually broken up into 21 distinct soil regions, which all vary in moisture, acidity, texture, drainage, fertility and composition. Whether you’re planning to purchase your own soil or use the soil in your own backyard, it’s a good idea to perform these four simple soil tests to make the most out of your gardening projects.
The Squeeze Test
The first soil test will determine your soil’s composition. Soil is generally classified as either clay, sand or loam. Clay is nutrient-rich, but drains slowly; sand is quick draining, but retains nutrients and moisture poorly. Loam, however, retains moisture and nutrients but doesn’t stay soggy. To test your soil’s composition, take some in your hands when it’s moist but not completely wet. Give the soil a good firm squeeze and open your hand. If the soil keeps its form when you hold it but crumbles when you touch it lightly—congrats! You have loam. If the soil keeps its shape even when gently touched, you’ve got clay, and if it falls apart very easily, you have sand.
The Percolation Test
Now that you know more about your soil’s composition, it’s time to check its drainage. Drainage is an important component of soil because some plants will die if their roots stay too wet. To test soil drainage, dig a hole about six inches wide and one foot deep. Fill that hole with water, and once it has drained completely, fill the hole with water again. Record how long it takes for the water to drain each time. If the water takes more than four hours to disappear, your soil has poor drainage.
The Worm Test
Earthworms are attracted to healthy, moisture-rich soil full of beneficial bacteria and microbes, and they can be great signals of your soil’s health. Once your soil is about 55 degrees and moist (not wet), dig a hole about one foot across and one foot deep. Place the soil you’ve just dug up on a tarp or some other surface and search through the soil. The presence of at least ten worms indicates that your soil is healthy.
The pH Test
A pH test determines a material’s acidity levels on a scale from zero to fourteen, with zero being very acidic and fourteen being very alkaline. Most plants grow best in soil that has a neutral pH, or between six and seven on the pH scale. You can buy a pH testing kit at any home and garden store.
If you’ve performed all of these tests and your plants are still struggling, contact your local cooperative extension service to learn how to have your soil scientifically tested.
Remember, if you have a big digging project coming up, call Texas811 before you dig to learn the location of any underground utility lines on your property.