Is There a Simple Way to Test Soil pH and Nutrient Levels?

“I have paid twice, and can’t get my local university extension to perform a soil test and return my results.  Is there a simple way I can determine the most common concerns like PH, potassium, phosphorus and such?” Question from Douglas of Greer, South Carolina

Answer: Well, that’s not right. Extension service soil tests are the best. Try reaching out to the administrative staff in the Clemson University Horticulture department when they are available. I have found that the folks at Land Grant Universities, such as Clemson University, are very friendly and helpful. They will certainly help you get what you paid for or be reimbursed. See if you can’t get through to someone, even though the university is not currently open. The website lists some numbers and email addresses.

Unless you’re a professional grower, you should not have to test your soil more than once. A gardener can expect some changes in nutrients and organic matter, especially in vegetable gardens, but pH should not really change much unless you’re actively adding liming or acidifying products to adjust an extreme soil pH. There are home soil testing kits that work moderately well, such as the Rapitest Premium Soil Test Kit, but these won’t be as accurate as soil tests from an extension service.

Soil tests are most essential when garden plants show significant signs of nutrient deficiency. If they do not, simply feed your plants regularly, and add quality organic matter to your soil yearly, such as Black Gold Garden Compost Blend and Peat Moss.

I hope that this helps.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist


Plants are the lens Jessie views the world through because they’re all-sustaining. (“They feed, clothe, house and heal us. They produce the air we breathe and even make us smell pretty.”) She’s a garden writer and photographer with degrees in both horticulture and plant biology from Purdue and Michigan State Universities. Her degrees were bolstered by internships at Longwood Gardens and the American Horticultural Society. She has since worked for many horticultural institutions and companies and now manages communications for Sun Gro Horticulture, the parent company of Black Gold. Her joy is sharing all things green and lovely with her two daughters.

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