How to Test Your Soil

Soil in hands of farmer.
Identify your soil composition using the jar method.

Starting a new garden space or had trouble growing in a particular area before? You may want to conduct a soil test. 

There are two main kinds of soil tests: a chemical test and a physical test.

A chemical test will show imbalances in major nutrients as well as the presence of certain chemicals, while a physical test will help you identify the type of soil composition you have. For a physical test, we use the jar method.

The Jar Method

To test your soil’s composition, you can carry out a simple and fun manual test, otherwise known as “the jar method.” The best soil is usually a mixture of sand, silt, and clay in the ratio of 2:2:1, and is also known as “loam.”

Materials Needed

  • 1 glass jar with a tight-fitting lid per person
  • 1 shovel per person
  • Water
  • Masking Tape
  • Pencil


  1. Sample multiple areas. To get the best sense of the different types of soil types in your garden, sample from different places. Label each person’s jar with the area sampled.
  2. Dig your samples. To obtain a quality sample, scrape away any surface sod or mulch and dig down at least 6” past the topsoil. Fill a jar halfway with the soil below.
  3. Shake to separate. Add water to your jar of soil, leaving at least 1” of space at the top. Shake vigorously, breaking up any clumps so that all particles are in suspension.
  4. Leave it to settle overnight. The particles will separate in order of size and weight, with sand, silt, and clay layering from bottom to top, respectively.
  5. Determine the composition of each sample area. Any floating material is organic matter, which contains nutrients and makes any kind of soil even better.