How to Tell if Soil is Good with 8 Simple Tests

It is essential to have rich, nutritious soil for successful gardening. Healthy soil will have plenty of underground animal and plant activity, such as earthworms and fungi. A soil rich in organic matter tends to be dark and crumbly with a healthy and well-developed root system. After you learn how to determine your soil type, this article includes eight easy tests that you can use to assess the health of your soil.
These tests are part of the Willamette Valley Soil Q Guide, which was created for farmers and gardeners with the intention of completing these steps in the spring.

Soil Organisms

Healthy soil is rich in animal and insect life. Follow these steps to determine how populated your soil is with wildlife.

  • Dig a hole that is at least 6 inches in depth.
  • Observe the interior of the hole for several minutes.
  • Count the species and number of critters you see, such as spiders, ground beetles, centipedes, and other organisms.

If your soil has less than ten living organisms, there is likely little animal life. A healthy animal population helps reduce pests and diseases and maintain healthy soil.


The soil with good circulation is usually aerated by worms, specifically earthworms. A large worm population can indicate that your soil is full of nutrients.

  • Look for earthworm burrows and earthworm castings in damp soil.
  • Take a piece of soil and dig it up to 6 inches deep.
  • Count all the worms in the piece.
  • Five is the magic number, but any amount above three is good.

The benefits of earthworms go far beyond aeration. These friendly creatures leave secretions that increase tilth and add organic matter, bacteria, plant nutrients, and enzymes through their castings.

Soil Structure/Tilth

Tilth refers to the condition of tilled land.

  • In damp soil, dig a hole 6-10 inches deep.
  • The soil you take out should be about the size of a soup can and kept intact.
  • Break the soil apart and separate roots without damaging them.

Healthy soil is composed of various-sized chunks of soil or aggregates, which retain their shape even under slight pressure. Rounder aggregates allow water and air to flow more easily around roots making for healthier plants. If the aggregates are hard to break down, then you may have a problem with your soil that you should test and amend as soon as possible.


Your soil may be difficult to work with and cause you trouble with tilling it and getting clods, or other signs of low workability. The more workable the soil is, the more you can ensure better water circulation and vital nutrients.


This is hard, compressed soil.

  • Stick a wire in the soil.
  • When the wire bends, mark the depth.

The wire should penetrate the soil at least one foot before it bends. Condensed soil reduces the availability of nutrients and water. Compacted soil also stops beneficial critters, such as earthworms, from moving around the plant roots.

Water Infiltration

Water infiltration refers to the process whereby water reaches roots.

  • Take out the bottom of a coffee pot.
  • Push it into the soil.
  • Water should be used to fill the visible area.
  • Mark the water level.
  • Record how much time it takes for the soil to absorb water.
  • Continue this process until your absorption rate slows and your absorption time is constant.
  • Your soil may be compacted if it is less than 1/2 to 1 inch per hour.

Water infiltration is an excellent way to ensure that water gets to the roots of your plants, prevents erosion and runoff, and improves aeration.

Water Availability

Well-aerated soil resists evaporation and gives plants an adequate water supply between waterings.

  • This test should be performed after a heavy downpour.
  • Track the time between rain and plants showing signs of thirst. Different regions will produce different results.
  • Your soil may be compacted if your plants require more watering than usual in your area.

Root Development

Healthy roots mean healthy soil and plants.

  • Choose a plant that you want to remove, such as an herb.
  • Grab the root and pull it up.
  • Take a look at the roots.
  • Healthy roots have fine strands and white roots. BrBrown, mushy roots are an indication of drainage problems.
  • Short roots can cause root-eating pests and diseases.

Healthy soil, air, and water are essential for roots to thrive. These simple tests will save you time and money, and make gardening more enjoyable!

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