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Bulletin 450 October, 1941
Chemical Soil Diagnosis
By the Universal Soil Testing System
(A Revision of Bulletin 392)
M. P. Morgan
Bulletin 450 October, 1941
Chemical Soil Diagnosis
By the Universal Soil Testing System
(A Revision of Bulletin 392)
M. F. Morgan
Agricultural ^Experiment JStatinn
Soil Extracting Solutions for Rapid Chemical Tests 579
The Universal Soil Extracting Solution 583
The Soil Sample 584
Soil Reaction (pH) Tests 586
Soil Examination for Physical Characteristics 589
Details of Universal Soil Testing Method 591
General plan 591
Preparation of reagents and solutions 592
The soil extraction 595
Routine tests 596
Special chemical tests 599
Plant tissue testing 604
Quantitative calibration of tests 605
Testing saline and alkali soils 608
The Interpretation of Soil Tests 610
Estimating Fertilizer Needs 620
CHEMICAL SOIL DIAGNOSIS
BY THE UNIVERSAL SOIL TESTING SYSTEM
(A Revision of Bulletin 392)
M. F. Morgan
DURING the past ten years numerous methods have been devised
or improved for the purpose of evaluating the chemical status
of the soil with respect to the nutrition of plants by means of rapid,
simple soil tests. This Station has issued several publications in this
field. The earliest of these, Bulletin 333, "Microchemical Soil Tests",
issued in January, 1932, (35) was the first to propose tests for nitrate
and ammonia nitrogen, calcium and aluminum, in addition to the phos-
phorus test, in order to obtain some measure of the interdependence
of various chemical factors involved in soil fertility. These methods
were revised and amplified so as to provide for the simultaneous
testing for various constituents from a single soil extract. The "Uni-
versal soil extracting solution" employed in these tests was first in-
troduced as a mimeographed supplement to Bulletin 333, issued in
February, 1933 (36). The methods in substantially their present
forms were described in detail in Bulletin 372, "The Universal Soil
Testing System", issued in 1935, (37) and in Bulletin 392, under the
same title, issued in 1937 (38). Circular 127, "Soil Testing Methods
— The Universal Soil Testing System", issued in 1939, (39) is an
abbreviated description of the methods, without the useful charts in-
cluded in the earlier publications, now no longer available for dis-
During the past five years the soil testing methods developed at
this Station have become extensively used for practical chemical soil
diagnosis, not only in Connecticut, through its service testing by the
Extension Service of the University of Connecticut, and by this Sta-
tion at New Haven and Windsor (Tobacco and Vegetable Field Sta-
tion), but in many other states and in numerous foreign countries.
Agricultural services in Great Britain have been employing
these methods extensively in their campaign for growing more food.
The war efforts of our own country now demand increased crop
production for ourselves and our allies with less available farm labor.
The supply of many fertilizer materials will be curtailed. Ships,
trains, and trucks moving fertilizers toward the farm are needed for
the transportation of vital war supplies. The competent employment
of soil testing will do much to promote greater efficiency in the
farmer's part in winning this war.
SOIL EXTRACTING SOLUTIONS FOR RAPID CHEMICAL TESTS
THE earlier methods of chemical soil study for fertility evaluation
were based on analyses of solutions resulting from the treatment of
the soil with strong solvents, such as concentrated mineral acids.
Practically inert sand and silt particles and humus residues were more
580 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
or less completely broken down. The results of such analyses were
of great value in revealing the fundamental constitution of the soil
as affected by soil-forming processes. However, they failed to show
any consistent differences between soils that were known to vary
widely with respect to the responses of crops to various chemical
treatments, such as fertilizers, manures and lime.
Extractions of the soil with solutions of less drastic solvent power,
such as the 1 percent citric acid employed by Dyer (13) and the fifth
normal nitric acid of Fraps (22), have been used by numerous soil
chemists for many years in detailed laboratory procedures. On some
soils each gave good correlation with crop results, while on others
the results were not satisfactory. Citric acid tended to attack the
iron and aluminum of acid soils to too great a degree, while the dilute
nitric acid was diminished in solvent power by neutralization due to
dissolved bases in soils containing carbonates. The methods were
too expensive in laboratory time and equipment to be suitable for
general application in soil diagnosis, even when the results were con-
sidered to be of practical benefit.
At first thought, the natural solvent to which soils are subjected
in nature would seem to be pure water. However, the liquid that
bathes the soil particles in a moist soil in the field is more or less
charged with carbonic acid, as well as small but significant amounts
of various mineral and organic acids, more or less buffered with salts
resulting from interaction with the soluble constituents of the soil.
The contact of the rootlets and root hairs with the colloidal particles
of the soil provides a mechanism for the absorption of chemical
elements by plants that can now be explained to a degree as a result
of recent expansion of knowledge concerning colloidal interface
phenomena. No one artificial solvent, acting upon the soil for a few
minutes to a few hours of time, can hope fully to duplicate all the
conditions involved in the ability of the soil to provide properly for
the chemical nutrition of the crop.
Thus it must be emphasized at the outset that any chemical
method of soil extraction is quite empirical in character, and the re-
sults at best can give only approximate quantitative expression to
beneficial or harmful concentrations of various chemical constituents
that are most likely to be prevalent in the active soil-plant system.
Most laboratory methods of chemical soil analysis are based on
the washing from the soil of practically all of the constituents capable
of being removed by the action of a given solution. Quick chemical
tests must necessarily rely upon the results of an incomplete extraction
wherein the interaction between the extracting solution and the soil
is permitted to continue for but a few minutes, and only a portion of
the extract is removed from contact with the soil. This might be
considered a serious limitation. However, it is a condition somewhat
analogous to the crop itself as a soil extractant. This may be a factor
in the apparently greater practical value of "quick test" results as
compared with those from the more detailed soil analyses.
Extracting Solutions for Rapid Tests 581
The various quick test methods that have been developed during
the past few years may be classed in four general types with reference
to the soil extractant.
The first of these involves solvent action of the same order of
magnitude as pure water. The very dilute acetic acid (.025 N) of
Spurway (45) in his general procedure falls in this category. Fully
soluble soil constituents, such as nitrates and chlorides, are readily
measured. Soils of very high chemical fertility, such as intensively
fertilized greenhouse or garden soils, may also contain quite measur-
able amounts of strictly water-soluble phosphorus, potassium or other
constituents usually not extractable from field soils in amounts that
can be distinguished by simple testing reagents.
A second type of extractant consists of a neutral salt of fairly
strong concentration (usually greater than half-normal). The 25 per-
cent sodium perchlorate solution proposed by Bray (7), and the nor-
mal ammonium acetate solution used by Peech (41) in micro methods,
are of this character. Such an extractant removes bases from the
soil through the mechanism of base exchange, in addition to the water-
soluble constituents. However, a neutral salt extraction fails to lib-
erate measurable amounts of phosphorus, aluminum, and iron that are
capable of dissolving under the slightly acid conditions that exist in
most natural soil solutions.
A third type of extractant is employed in quick test methods most
commonly used in the Middle West. A strong mineral acid, such
as hydrochloric, nitric or sulfuric acid, is employed. This is neces-
sarily in dilute concentrations, usually less than half normal, in order
to prevent the dissolving of mineral particles or humus substances that
are only slightly attacked under natural soil conditions. The acid
solution is frequently buffered at a given pH, such as 2.0 or 3.0, by
the addition of a neutral salt. The total acid concentration is weak,
in the sense that it may be readily exhausted by the neutralizing action
of amounts of lime or other basic materials frequently existing in soils.
On the other hand, the hydrogen-ion concentration existing at a pH
of 2.0 or 3.0 exerts a strong solvent effect upon difficultly soluble min-
erals, particularly upon apatite or phosphate rock particles. Such sol-
vents dissolve some potash and other bases in addition to the water-
soluble and absorbed forms. However, it is difficult to confirm this
on non-calcareous soils under quick test conditions, since only a par-
tial extraction is effected. Carbonates are actively decomposed by
the strongly ionized acid; hence calcium and magnesium tests on cal-
careous soils include quantities of these bases that may be considered
part of the insoluble base reserve, rather than actively affecting the
Methods employing such soil extractants are as follows:
Truog (51) original phosphorus procedure, using .002 normal
sulfuric acid, buffered at 3 pH with ammonium sulfate.
"Truog-Hellige" commercial set (25), using dilute hydrochloric
acid, buffered with a salt.
582 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
Bray (5), Thornton (49) and Emerson (15) phosphorus tests;
also the "Hi-lo-fos" and "Sudbury" phosphorus tests, using hydro-
chloric acid (0.7 to 0.8 Normal) and ammonium molybdate.
Bray (6) potash test, using nitric acid and sodium acetate.
Spurway (46) outlines tests for "reserve" phosphorus and potash,
using 0.135 Normal hydrochloric acid.
Baver and Bruner (2) soil testing methods, using 0.3 Normal
Miles (31) tentative procedure, using a buffered perchloric acid
A fourth type of extractant employs a weakly ionized organic acid
buffered with its sodium salt. A mixed solution of acetic acid and so-
dium acetate is now most extensively used as the soil extractant for
quick chemical tests. As introduced by the writer (37), under the des-
ignation of the "Universal soil extracting solution", it is approximately
0.5 Normal in total acetic acid concentration and is buffered at approxi-
mately 4.8 pH with sodium acetate. Hester (26) adopted a solution
modified from that used in a laboratory phosphorus test independently
proposed by Dahlberg and Brown (11) appearing later in the same year
(1933) as the writer's original use of this type of extractant. Hester's
solution is more dilute, with a total acetic acid concentration of ap-
proximately 0.2 Normal, buffered at from 4.8 to 5.0 pH. Merkle (32)
gives soil testing procedures based on the original Dahlberg and
Brown extractant, of approximately twice the strength of that of
Hester. Fink (20) reports using the Universal soil extracting solu-
tion modified by the addition of a sufficient amount of hydrochloric
acid to bring it to 3.0 pH. Such an extractant is probably inter-
mediate in solvent power between the third and fourth types of ex-
tractants described herein.
The Egner (14) lactic acid-calcium lactate extracting solution,
now frequently used in laboratory procedures abroad, is similar in
principle to the acetic acid-sodium acetate extractants. The chemi-
cals do not lend themselves so readily to employment in quick test
Other extractants proposed for use in quick test methods include
the 0.1 Normal acetic acid of Harper (24) and the 1 percent potas-
sium carbonate of Hockensmith, Gardner and Goodwin (28), both
employed for phosphorus tests.
Some investigators have proposed the idea of measuring the ab-
sorption of phosphorus or potash, or both, by a given amount of
soil from solutions containing known concentrations of these constitu-
ents. Emerson (15) proposed such an absorption method for potas-
sium. This has been applied in the Sudbury commercial soil testing
set. Purvis and Blume (42, 43) have developed a method for both
phosphorus and potassium based on this principle. Such procedures
may give valuable information when used in correlation with direct
The Universal Soil Extracting Solution 583
THE UNIVERSAL SOIL EXTRACTING SOLUTION
THIS solution, of the fourth type previously discussed, was
selected by the writer on the basis of the following characteristics:
1. It is buffered at a hydrogen-ion concentration closely approximated
by that of aqueous solutions saturated with carbon-dioxide in con-
centrations normally existing in soil air, or of weak plant root acid
secretions. This degree of acidity is readily attained by most soils
in humid regions.
2. Its solvent action is practically unchanged by contact with the soil.
Its total acidity and buffer capacity are sufficient to prevent a change
of more than 0.2 pH on prolonged contact with a soil containing
the equivalent of 2.5 percent of calcium carbonate, using the propor-
tion of soil to extracting solution here employed.
3. The resultant soil extract permits the development of the color and
turbidity reactions for the various tests with a minimum of manipu-
4. The ions present in the extracting solution do not interfere with the
tests for the constituents to be determined.
5. The resultant soil extract contains concentrations within the range
of sensitivity of the various tests, for all normal agricultural soils.
6. Turbidity or discoloration of the extract thus obtained is not suffi-
cient to interfere with the tests, except in extreme cases.
7. Tests of soil extracts made with this solution are in harmony with
known crop performance over a wide range of soils.
8. The solution does not become contaminated by biological decompo-
During the past eight years, the writer has carefully studied tests
of soil extracts obtained by this solution on many soils, not only from
Connecticut, but from many states, and from areas in the American
tropics. Concepts involved in the interpretation of the tests must
necessarily vary under different soil and climate conditions and for
different types of crops. Although the methods herein described were
first developed for conditions existing in southern New England, it
is now confidently believed that they serve to give useful information
concerning almost any soil that may be thus examined.
As chairman of the Sub-committee on Soil Testing of the General
Fertilizer Committee, American. Society of Agronomy, during the past
five years, the writer has studied the independent results of numerous
collaborators on a series of 31 check soils from 15 states east of the
Great Plains area, assembled by the sub-committee. In its recent re-
port (40) there has appeared to be a consistent difference in relative
results on a few soils between methods using the Universal and other
acetic acid-sodium acetate extractants from those using dilute solutions
of the stronger acids. Certain silt and clay loams of the Corn Belt give
lower phosphorus and potassium tests by the former type of extractant,
while the higher results by Thornton, Truog and similar methods
appear more in line with the "case history" of the soils in question.
On the other hand, the latter methods have given inconsistently low
tests for phosphorus on a highly calcareous soil and somewhat higher
phosphorus and potassium tests on a few other soils than are indicated
by field responses to treatment. Of most significance is the general
584 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
agreement in relative results, for a given constituent, irrespective of
the type of extractant used in the various quick test procedures, when
the data are obtained by a skilled operator.
Certain modifications in procedure for adapting the tests to spe-
cial soil conditions will be indicated in the presentation of the details
of the methods.
THE SOIL SAMPLE
THE interpretation of soil tests must be based on an assumption
that the sample actually tested is truly representative of the conditions
existing in the particular layer of soil and position with respect to
the plant roots or fertilizer placement existing in the given area of
ground in question. A large field, planted to one crop, that has been
of uniform past production and soil treatment and that is apparently
a single soil type, may possibly be represented by a single test sample,
comprising a careful mixture of numerous borings or soil slices of uni-
form thickness through the depth of the plowed zone (usually 6 to
7 inches) well distributed over the field. However, in many cases,
several separate composite samples from differing portions of the field
must be examined. Samples from portions of a field that show defi-
nitely poorer or better results than the average, not readily explainable
on the basis of obvious physical soil differences, should be compared
with the samples from areas of normal production. Permanent grass
turf, such as pasture sod, should be sampled to the depth of only 2
inches if any treatment that might be used must be applied as a top-
dressing. Separate samples from two or more soil depths may reveal
significant information. No simple rule for soil sampling will apply to
all cases. Common sense is the best guide, bearing in mind that in
the final mixed portion actually subjected to test is only a spoonful
from an area of land usually representing thousands of tons of soil.
Instructions for those who collect and submit their own soil
samples for testing in Connecticut, as issued in Circular 131, "Soil
Testing in Connecticut", are as follows:
The soil sample should be a thorough mixture of equal amounts
of soil collected at 20 or more points well distributed over the field
or area in question. Vertically cut shovel or trowel slices of uniform
thickness, or borings, should be taken. For cultivated soils, sample
to the depth of 6 inches. Permanent sod, as in pastures and lawns,
should be sampled from the upper 2 inches. If desired, separate
samples of soil from lower depths may be made. Mix the soil thor-
oughly, and remove stones, coarse roots or hard clods. Each sample
should be packed in a clean carton, box or bag not previously used
for drugs, chemicals or other contaminating substances. An unused
half-pint ice cream carton is quite desirable. The County Farm
Bureaus supply suitable mailing tubes. Each sample should be
marked by number, name of field, or other identifying legend.
If there are distinct types of soil in the field, or important differ-
ences in past treatment or crop growth, separate samples should be
The Soil Sample 585
Soils are received for testing at the following laboratories:
Agronomy Department, University of Connecticut, Storrs
Tobacco Substation, Windsor
Soils Department, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station,
Record sheets, letters or notes accompanying samples must indi-
cate the crop or crops involved, and as much as possible of the fol-
1. Land surface (whether hilly, rolling or level).
2. Drainage, either natural, or as improved by tile or ditches.
3. Underlying formation, whether "hardpan", sand, gravel or rock.
4. Special soil features such as mellowness or hardness, tendency to
erode, unusual shallowness of soil, stoniness, etc.
5. Crops grown in past few years, and description of any abnormal
results not caused by other factors.
6. Soil treatment with respect to lime, manure, fertilizer, etc., in recent
7. Approximate area represented by the sample.
8. Amount and kind of manure available for soil improvement.
9. Description of all unusual conditions.
When the samples are brought to the laboratory, most of this
information may be given orally.
Time of sampling: The soil is a dynamic body, teeming with
micro-organisms whose activities vary from day to day and from
season to season with changes in temperature, moisture and food sup-
ply. Nitrate and ammonia nitrogen contents of the soil are especially
variable, as will be discussed in the section on test interpretations. A
rapidly growing crop depletes some of the active constituents of the
soil. For this reason, at the end of the growing season, soils show
high tests for nitrates and potassium only when the amounts of these
constituents added in the fertilizer, or becoming available in the soil,
are in excess of crop demands. There are also seasonal fluctuations
in soil acidity, which influence the availability of plant nutrients to
some extent. Acidity is normally at a minimum in early spring, and
at a maximum in midsummer.
All of the above factors must be taken into consideration in the
interpretation of the tests. For general soil diagnosis, tests on
samples taken in early spring are most reliable. However, soils
studied during the growing season give tests most closely related to
the performance of the crop, and are particularly valuable in deter-
mining immediate need for supplemental fertilization. Tests in the
autumn, after the crop is harvested, best indicate whether or not the
fertilizer has been in excess of crop needs. Thus the choice of time
when the sample is to be taken depends upon the purpose for which
the test is made.
Preparing the soil sample for testing: The field-collected sample,
upon receipt for testing, is usually more or less moist. If too sticky
to be screened, it should be dried to a mellow-moist condition. After
586 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
mixing the entire sample, a portion of suitable size (usually about 100
cc.) should be screened with a 2 mm. or 10-mesh sieve to remove
stones, gravel or coarse roots. The screened sample, further mixed,
should be tested as quickly as possible, preferably before loss of all
of its field moisture. Samples reserved for future testing should be
promptly air-dried, and stored in containers with tight covers, in a
place that is free from strong laboratory fumes, particularly am-
monia or acid vapors.
SOIL REACTION ( P H) TESTS
SOIL reaction, in terms of the pH scale, is now generally accepted
as one of the most important single factors involved in the chemical
fertility of soils. Knowledge of the degree of acidity or alkalinity is
almost essential in the proper interpretation of the results of the other
chemical tests, especially those for phosphorus, calcium, magnesium,
aluminum and manganese. The pH test is necessarily a separate
measurement from the tests that are applied to the soil extract in the
Universal soil testing system. Most laboratories or testing centers
that conduct several hundreds or thousands of tests each year find it
desirable to make the pH tests by electrical apparatus. Several re-
liable commercial pH meter sets using the principle of the glass elec-
trode are now on the market. These instruments enable a skilled
operator to make accurate pH measurements on hundreds of soils in
a few hours. The quinhydrone electrode type of instrument is still
fxequently used with good results, but is subject to considerable error
on certain soils, particularly those containing oxidizing materials, such
as manganese dioxide.
When soil testing is not conducted on a sufficient scale to justify
the purchase of electrical equipment, the measurement of pH may be
done colorimetrically by the use of indicator dyes. A procedure that
has been successfully used by many persons during the past 15 years
is the one developed by the author (33) and described in Bulletin 333
of this Station. Since this publication is now out of print, the details
of the method are outlined here.
The Morgan pH testing set: The technique employed involves
the use of a special porcelain block, as illustrated in Figure 1. This
facilitates the operation of extracting the soil without the resultant
color due to turbidity from the soil itself. The soil is placed in com-
partment "B", on the lower side of the perforated partition. The
surface is pressed gently with a clean knife, or spatula, to prevent
the possibility of open channels through the soil mass, and leveled off
with the sloping face of the block. The narrow channel "C" and
test cup "B" should be wiped clean of soil particles. If desired, a
small dam of clean, coarse quartz sand of high purity may be poured
in at the upper end of channel "C" at the lower edge of the soil
mass. This is especially useful on silty soils that tend to flow down
the channel upon saturation with liquid.
Soil Reaction (pH) Tests
An extracting solution, prepared by dissolving 3 grams of sodium
chloride, of analytical reagent purity, in 1 liter of distilled water, may
be employed. It is also feasible to use the indicator solution itself
as the soil extractant, except on soils that absorb the color from the
dye, or that tend to give a turbid extract. The extracting solution,
or indicator solution, is added to compartment "A", above the per-
forated partition, drop by drop, until the soil mass becomes saturated
and liquid begins to trickle down the channel into the test cup "D".
Uniform flow along the channel may be guided by the tip of a clean
tinned paper clip or glass rod.
Figure 1. Morgan Soil Test Block used in colorimetric pH test tech-
nique. Compartment "A" for addition of liquid extractant, separated
from soil in compartment "B" by a perforated partition; channel
"C" for flow of extract into test cup "D".
If the extracting solution is used, the indicator solution should
be added to the test cup before the extract flows into it. A half-drop
quantity, obtained by touching the tip of the indicator transfer pipette
or eye-dropper to the bottom of the cup and squeezing out a bead
about three-eighths inch in diameter, should be used. When the
liquid of a uniform color fills the test cup, it is compared with the
color chart for the particular indicator 1 used in that section of the
J The color charts, test blocks and indicator solutions may be obtained from the LaMotte
Chemical Products Company, Baltimore, or the Fischer Scientific Company, New York,
Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
The test block supplies three testing sections, for simultaneous
extraction and use of the three indicators, as follows:
Bromthymol blue (0.04%)
Chlorphenol red (0.04%)
Bromcresol green (0.04%)
6.0-7.6 P H (slightly
acid to slightly alkaline)
5.0-6.6 pH (moderately
to slightly acid)
3.8-5.4 pH (strongly to
One of the above three indicators is almost certain to cover the
proper range for any soil in the humid section of the country. In
arid regions, where alkali soils occur, or for extremely acid peaty
soils, other indicators may be selected, such as the following:
Cresol red (0.04%)
Thymol blue (0.04%)
Bromphenol blue (0.04%)
7.2-8.8 pH (slightly to
8.0-9.6 pH (moderately
to strongly alkaline)
3.0-4.6 pH (extremely to
These indicators are conveniently used from one-ounce bottles
with screw cap dropping pipette caps.
The indicators should be of a color approximating the mid-color
of their range. In bottles, indicators may gradually become more al-
kaline through contact with the glass. Thus the bromthymol blue
may become deep blue, or chlorphenol red may become violet red.
In such case, dilute hydrochloric acid (1 to 20) may be added to the
bottle, drop by drop until the proper color is restored.
In case charts are not available, the approximate colors developed
by the most commonly used indicators; in relation to pH, are as fol-
pH and Color
Other colorimetric pH methods: A technique that has come into
frequent use in recent years involves the use of barium chloride as
a clarifying agent. The test is conducted in test tubes or glass vials.
Examination for Physical Characteristics 589
A suggested procedure is as follows: Place a teaspoonful of soil,
one-fourth teaspoonful of powdered barium sulfate ("X-ray purity"
reagent) and 10 ml. of distilled water in a one-half ounce glass vial.
Stopper with a clean cork and shake thoroughly. Let the vial stand
until the upper third of the contents has settled clear. Add 1 drop
of the indicator solution and stir the supernatant liquid gently, taking
care not to roil the settled portion. The resultant color should be
compared as indicated for the previously described procedure.
The above method is especially useful on heavy soils that tend
to yield turbid extracts or that are too impervious for the application
of the Morgan test block procedure.
A number of inexpensive simple field pH kits are also on the
market. These give the approximate pH of the soil, usually to within
0.4 pH of the results obtained by the best laboratory methods, which
is often sufficiently close for practical purposes.
The pH test is not a direct measure of the amount of lime that
is desirable to apply in the correction of an acid condition. However,
when the texture and humus content of a soil are taken into considera-
tion, the pH serves as a practical guide to lime use. This is discussed
in a later section on "Interpreting Soil Tests".
SOIL EXAMINATION FOR PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SOIL texture, involving the relative proportion of sand, silt and
clay in the soil, is an important consideration in the proper interpreta-
tion of quick chemical tests. A definite measure of soil texture is ob-
tained by mechanical analysis. A useful method, giving satisfactory
practical results on most soils, is the hydrometer technique devised by
Bouyoucos (4). However, it is usually impractical to make such
measurements on the large numbers usually involved in quick test
operations. As a rule, the texture of the soil can be fairly assessed
by a skilled observer, chiefly on the basis of the feel of a moderately
moist soil when rubbed gently between thumb and forefinger. A few
simple rules are helpful in this connection, for characterizing soils of
the more common textural classes.
Loamy sand: harsh, gritty feel; very slight tendency of the
moist soil to stick together when pressed.
Sandy loam: definitely gritty; may be pressed into a soft mass,
Fine sandy loam: mellow and only moderately gritty feel; may
be pressed into a firm mass, if moist.
Loam: mellow, moderately smooth feel; moist soil may be
rolled into firm rods; not perceptibly sticky.
Silt loam: Smooth and "floury" feel; moist soil only slightly-
sticky; readily rolled into firm, slender rods.
Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
Clay loam: Very smooth, "slippery" feel; definitely sticky when
moist; easily modeled into any shape.
A more detailed description of soil textures has been published
in Bulletin 423 of this Station, pages 8 to 11.
Some evaluation of the organic matter content of a soil is also
essential to the proper interpretation of soil tests. A number of soil
testing laboratories make some measurements of organic matter as
a supplement to the quick test procedure. A reliable, reasonably
rapid technique is the Turin (50) modification of the Schollenberger
(44) dichromate method, also outlined recently by Merkle (32).
Thomas and Williams (47) employ an abbreviated adaptation of the
Schollenberger method, involving only partial decomposition of all of
the organic matter.
Some soil testing laboratories estimate organic matter content
from the loss effected by igniting the previously oven-dried soil at
full red heat to constant weight. Loss-on-igr|ition is a useful soil
measurement. However, it gives values of much higher magnitude
than can be ascribed to the organic matter content, particularly on
loamy or clay soils relatively low in humus, due to the volatilization
of chemically combined water and certain inorganic elements. Such
a procedure is most satisfactory when soils of similar textural type are
Persons who are familiar with the color of the soil at various
organic levels can usually make a fair estimate of organic matter by
observation. It must be borne in mind that the dark color imparted
to the soil by humus is deepened by moisture; also, that a sandy soil
is much darker at the same organic content than a heavier soil. Un-
der Connecticut conditions, approximate colors of moderately dry
soils, at varying organic levels, are approximately as follows:
Color Range and Organic Content
or light gray
light gray brown
2.5 - 4.0
fine sandy loam
2.0 - 4.0
loam or silt loam
5.0 - 7.0
6.0 - 8.0
In prairie regions, soils are usually darker at the same organic
matter content than indicated in the above scheme.
Details of Universal Soil Testing Methods 591
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE UNIVERSAL SOIL TESTING METHOD
THE filtered extract obtained from soil treatment with the Uni-
versal soil extracting solution or other extractant is tested for various
constituents by transferring small quantities, usually from 1 to 10
drops, to either a porcelain or glass spot plate, with depressions hold-
ing approximately 20 drops, or to small glass vials of uniform size
(50 mm. by 10 mm.), followed by the addition of appropriate reagents
for the development of color or turbidity tests. The general plan of
such micro-chemical tests follows the general technique for micro-
chemical tests most extensively developed by Feigl (18, 19). Ap-
plication of such procedure in quick chemical soil testing was first re-
ported by the author in connection with the nitrate test (34).
Chemical tests of such a nature must be conducted with reagents
that are sensitive to approximately the same concentrations of the
constituent in question, irrespective of the presence of other elements
or ions that are likely to be present ni the soil extract. When some
other constituent interferes by giving a similar test or by increasing
or decreasing the sensitivity of the test, the extract must be purified
by some chemical technique designed to remove or inactivate the dis-
turbing substance. This may be accomplished in a refined laboratory
method, but is not ordinarily practicable in quick test procedures.
The following list itemizes the equipment normally required for
conducting the usual routine tests. Specifications are those that have
been found most generally desirable, and the tests are calibrated on
the basis of their use. A sufficient quantity of glassware, etc., is pro-
vided for testing six soil samples at the same time. 1 For larger op-
erations, the numbers may be increased.
1 Supply bottle, 1 liter or larger capacity, for soil extracting solution.
1 Cylinder, or burette, graduated, 10 ml.
1 Spoon, measuring, teaspoon size.
1 Block, wooden, with 6 holes of % i ncn diameter, for supporting filtering
1 Block, wooden, with 12 holes of Yi inch diameter, for supporting test
1 Filter paper, box of 100 sheets of 9 cm. diameter, C. S. and S. 597
(American manufacture), Munktell No. or similar grade.
6 Tubes, soil filtering, 15 mm. inside diameter, with funnel mouth 35 mm.
diameter and air vent (or separate tubes and funnels of similar dimen-
6 Pipettes, eyedropper type, with unflattened straight tip of 2 mm. diameter,
or transfer pipettes graduated to 0.05 ml.
6 Rods, glass, 100 mm. by 4 mm.
12 Vials, glass, 50 mm. deep, 10 mm. inside diameter.
Arrangements have been made with the LaMotte Chemical Products Company, Baltimore,
Maryland, for supplying assembled sets of the above equipment and commercially prepared
extracting solutions and reagents to those who desire this service.
592 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
2 Spot plates, white porcelain, sets of 12 depressions of 20 mm. diameter
and 7.5 mm. depth.
9 Bottles, 1 oz., with dropper pipette in screw cap, for test reagents.
3 Bottles, 2 oz., with dropper pipette in screw cap.
1 Bottle, glass dropping stopper, 1 oz. (for nitrate reagent).
Preparation of Solutions and Reagents for Routine Testing
(All chemicals should be of reliable C. P.
or A. R. grade, or of special type as noted)
Universal soil extracting solution: Add 100 gms. of sodium
acetate (NaC 2 H 3 2 .3H 2 0) to 500 ml. of distilled water. After this
is dissolved, add 30 ml. of glacial acetic acid and make up to 1 liter.
Nitrate nitrogen reagent: Dissolve 0.05 gm. of diphenylamine in
25 ml. of concentrated sulfuric acid, at a temperature not to exceed
24° C. The resulting solution should have no trace of bluish color,
and should give a colorless "spot" when 4 drops are added to 1 drop
of distilled water. This test should be made frequently since con-
tinued exposure to light and accidental contamination may require
the preparation of a fresh reagent. The solution is very corrosive,
and should not be allowed to come into contact with rubber. Care
should also be taken to prevent injury to hands or clothing.
Ammonia nitrogen reagent: ("Nesslers reagent"): Dissolve 5
gms. of potassium iodide in 15 ml. of distilled water. Add a saturated
solution of mercuric chloride until a slight precipitation occurs. Add
40 ml. of a 50 percent solution of potassium hydroxide. Dilute
to 100 ml., allow to settle for one week, decant and keep in a brown
glass bottle. Two drops of this reagent, added to 4 drops of the
"Universal" leaching solution, should give a practically colorless spot.
Nesslers reagent prepared according to other reliable laboratory
formulae may also be employed.
Phosphorus reagent "A": Dissolve 12.5 gms. of sodium molyb-
date, by gentle heating, in 100 ml. of distilled water. Mix 50 ml. of
acetic acid and 350 ml. of distilled water in a 600-ml. beaker. Add
the above solution of sodium molybdate slowly with constant stirring.
Store in a brown glass bottle.
Reagent "A" should not show more than a trace of sediment in the
bottle in which it is stored. If the molybdate has a definite tendency
to precipitate, the reagent is unreliable. This reagent, when carefully
prepared, should be stable for six months or more; but unless the di-
rections are carefully followed, it may deteriorate in a much shorter
Phosphorus reagent "B": This should be freshly prepared on
the day of use as follows: Place 25 ml. of "Universal" extracting
solution in a one-ounce dropper bottle. Add .005 to .01 gm. of stan-
nous oxalate (an amount about the size of a match head, conveniently
transferred by means of the flattened tip of a thin glass rod) and
Details of Universal Soil Testing Methods 593
Potassium reagent "A": Dissolve 5 gms. of Co(NO. ; ), and 30 gms.
of NaN0 2 in 50 ml. of distilled water acidfied with 2.5 ml. of glacial
acetic acid. Make up to 100 ml. with distilled water. Let stand 24
hours and filter.
Potassium reagent "B": Iso-propyl alcohol, 90 ml., mixed with
formaldehyde, neutral, 10 ml. (Store in a bottle with a tightly fitting
Calcium reagent: Mix 10 gms. of sodium oxalate with 100 ml. of
distilled water. Let stand for 24 hours, and decant clear supernatant
solution to the reagent bottle for use as required.
Magnesium reagent "A~l": Dissolve .01 gm. of para-nitroben-
zene-azo-resorcinol (Eastman Kodak Company) in 2 ml. of 1 percent
NaOH. Dilute to 200 ml.
Magnesium reagent "A-2": Dissolve 0.10 gm. of Titan yellow
(Eastman Kodak Company) in a mixture of 50 ml. of methyl alcohol
and 50 ml. of distilled water. This should be freshly prepared every
three or four months.
Magnesium reagent "B": Dissolve 15 gms. of sodium hydroxide
in 100 ml. of distilled water. This is also used as Manganese reagent
Aluminum reagent: Place 0.05 gm. of hematein (Eastman Kodak
Company) in a 30-ml. beaker. Add 5 ml. of ethyl alcohol (95 per-
cent.) Triturate with a rubber tipped stirring rod and decant clear
solution to the storage bottle. Triturate with successive 5 ml. por-
tions of alcohol and decant, until all of hematein is dissolved. Make
up to a volume of 100 ml., with the ethyl alcohol. (This should be
freshly prepared every two months, under ordinary conditions of
Aluminum stain remover: Mix 25 ml. of concentrated hydro-
chloric acid and 25 ml. of distilled water. (Same as Iron reagent
Manganese reagent "A": Dissolve 0.1 gm. of benzidine in 20 ml.
of glacial acetic acid. Dilute to 200 ml. and filter.
Manganese reagent "B": See Magnesium reagent "B".
Preparation of Reagents and Extracting Solutions for Special Tests
Iron reagent "A": Dilute hydrochloric acid of ordinary C. P.
concentration (approximately 38 percent HC1) with an equal volume
of distilled water.
Iron (ferric and ferrous) reagent "B": Dissolve 10 gms. of po-
tassium ferrocyanide and 0.1 gm. of potassium ferricyanide in 100
ml. of distilled water.
Ferric iron reagent "B": Dissolve 15 gms. of potassium sulpho-
cyanate in 100 ml. of distilled water.
594 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
Ferrous iron reagent "B": Dissolve 0.2 gm. of potassium fer-
ricyanide in 100 ml. of distilled water.
Sulfate sulfur reagent: Dissolve 5 gms. of barium chloride in
100 ml. of distilled water.
Nitrite nitrogen reagent: Dissolve 1 gm. of sulphanilic acid, by
gentle heating, in 100 ml. of a saturated solution of ammonium
chloride. Add 1.5 gms. of phenol and mix thoroughly.
Special sodium extracting solution: Add 2 ml. of copper sulfate
solution (10 percent) to 100 ml. of distilled water.
Sodium reagent: Make up two separate lots as follows: (A)
Uranyl acetate, 10 gms.; acetic acid (30 percent), 6 ml.; distilled
water to 65 ml. Dissolve by heating. (B) Zinc acetate, 30 gms.;
acetate acid (30 percent), 3 ml.; water to 65 ml. Dissolve by heating.
Add (A) to (B) and continue heating until clear. Let stand several
days and filter out the sediment.
Chloride reagent: Dissolve 2 gms. of silver nitrate in 100 ml.
of distilled water. Store in an amber, glass-stoppered bottle.
Boron reagent "A": Dissolve 0.5 gm. turmeric powder in 100
ml. of ethyl alcohol (95 percent). Filter through a "double acid-
Boron reagent "B": Mix 70 ml. of orthophosphoric acid (85
percent) and 30 ml. of concentrated sulfuric acid. Let stand for a
few days, and decant the clear liquid.
Zinc reagent "A": Dissolve .0807 g. of cobalt chloride in 100
ml. of 0.5 N hydrochloric acid solution.
Zinc reagent "B": Dissolve 8 gms. of mercuric chloride and 9
gms. of ammonium thiocynate in 100 ml. of distilled water. Let stand
for three or four days and decant the clear solution.
Zinc reagent "C": Ethyl ether.
Copper reagent: Dissolve 5 gms. of alphabenzoinoxime in 100
ml. of ethyl alcohol (95 percent).
Manganese reagent for supplemental test: A saturated solution
of tetra-base (Eastman Kodak Company) in ethyl alcohol (95 per-
Mercury reagent: Dissolve 0.1 gm. of s-diphenylcarbazide in
100 ml. of ethyl alcohol (95 percent).
Lead reagent: Dissolve 0.05 gm. of dithizone in 100 ml. of car-
bon tetra-chloride. This should be freshly prepared, since most
glass containers contaminate the reagent after a few days of contact.
Arsenic, material required for the test: Concentrated sulfuric
acid, granular zinc AR (low arsenic content), silver nitrate solution
(see Chloride reagent).
Details of Universal Soil Testing Methods 595
The Soil Extraction
The procedure that has been most extensively used with success on
the sandy and loam soils of Connecticut involves direct extraction
of the soil by percolation of the soil mass as placed in the folded
filter paper cone. This technique works best on soils that are readilv
moistened throughout upon the addition of the first two or three ml.
of the extracting solution, so that the remainder of the liquid perco-
lates readily through the entire soil mass. Other investigators using
the Universal soil extracting solution or similar types of extractants
have adopted other procedures of extraction. While less simple and
rapid than the author's original technique, they may be used to ad-
vantage' on soils that are less readily saturated with the extractant, or
that are of more impervious texture. Hence, alternate procedures of
extraction are included.
Simple percolation extraction; Fit a folded filter paper of 9 cm.
diameter (of American-made C.S. and S, 597, Munktell No. or similar
grade) into the funnel of the soil filtering tube or the funnel in posi-
tion above the tube or flask to be used in the collection of the extract.
Place a level teaspoonful of the soil sample inside the filter cone,
and press down gently with the back of the spoon. Measure out a
10 ml. portion of the Universal soil extracting sloution, and pour
slowly over the soil mass in the filter. If the soil does not readily
absorb the liquid, the extraction should be repeated with the soil mois-
tened slightly with distilled water before being measured into the
funnel. Permit the filtration to proceed to completion, or until there
is no liquid on the soil surface. In removing the filter cone of soil,
squeeze it gently to extract any remaining liquid which may have col-
lected at its tip. Remove the funnel and insert a clean eyedropper
pipette into the filtrate vessel. Pump the liquid up and down the
pipette two or three times to insure thorough mixing of the soil extract.
Each lot of extract should be supplied with an individual pipette for
transferring portions for the various tests.
Alternate extraction I: Place a teaspoonful of soil, gently
packed and leveled, into a 50-ml. beaker. Add 10 ml. of the Uni-
versal soil extracting solution. Stir vigorously for one minute and
filter through a paper of quality indicated above into a 20 by 75-mm.
glass vial or other suitable container. Remove the funnel, and insert a
clean eyedropper pipette into the filtrate vessel. Proceed as directed
Goss and Owens (23) recommend placing the soil and extracting
solution in a 50-ml. Erlenmeyer flask and shaking with an automatic
shaking machine for 15 minutes before filtration. Results by such
a procedure are somewhat higher, for some constituents, than by the
shorter time of extraction. However, data on check soils by various
methods do not show any consistent improvement in correlation for
(he more exhaustive extraction.
Alternate extraction II: Place a rubber policeman over the end
of the stem of a 50-mm. filter funnel provided with an 18-mm. disc
of fritted glass ( porosity- 1 ). Add 10 ml. of the extracting solution and
596 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
a level teaspoonful of the soil sample. After 15 minutes, remove the
policeman, permitting the extract to drain into the collecting flask or
tube. This general procedure is used by Thomas and Williams (47)
and by Miles (31). Results have not been studied in detail in com-
parison with the simple percolation extraction, but are believed to be
similar to those obtained by the Goss and Owens modification.
It is likely that no one method of extraction will be uniformly
applicable to all types of soil. It is suggested that each of the pro-
cedures be studied on numerous soils representative of the locality in-
volved, before selecting the one that appears to be most desirable.
Lighting Conditions in Conducting the Tests
It is possible to make reasonably close comparisons of color and
turbidity reactions developed in the various quick tests under good
natural light. A north or northeast window is preferable, since the
reflections obtained in direct sunlight make matchings difficult. Very
dark cloudy days and late afternoons in the winter season are an ob-
jectionable feature of natural lighting; hence, if possible, artificial il-
lumination by a good lamp of the "daylight" type, preferably the re-
cently devised fluorescent tube, with suitable screen to throw the light
down and behind the table upon which the testing operations are in
progress, is desirable. The value of attention to lighting and other
details in soil testing techniques has been discussed by Constable and
Tests Most Commonly Used in Routine Testing
Nitrate nitrogen test 1 : Transfer 1 drop of soil extract to the
spot plate. Add 4 drops of the reagent; let stand for two minutes;
stir with a glass rod and compare the intensity of the resultant blue
color with the color chart. The true color is slightly more blue than
Stirring immediately after adding the reagent is not recommended,
since the blue color develops most rapidly in the film of contact
between the reagent and the extract. Somewhat deeper colors result
from the prolonged standing in excess of two minutes, but for con-
venience of operation, the charts are standardized on the basis of this
If a very deep blue color is obtained, corresponding to the top
value of the chart, the test should be repeated on 1 drop of diluted
extract, prepared in the ratio of 1 drop of extract to 4 drops of water
or the extracting solution. Heavily fertilized soils often contain sev-
eral times as much nitrate nitrogen as indicated by the chart, on the
basis of the undiluted soil extract.
If the first drop of the reagent produces an immediate blue
color, the presence of nitrogen as the nitrite is suggested, and a test
for nitrite is desirable.
1 This is adapted from the method originally proposed by the author (34).
Details of Universal Soil Testing Methods 597
Ammonia nitrogen test 1 : Transfer 4 drops of the soil extract to
the spot plate. Add 2 drops of the reagent. Let stand one minute;
stir with glass rod and compare the resultant yellow to orange color
with the color chart.
Phosphorus test 2 : Transfer 10 drops of the soil extract to the
spot plate. Add 1 drop of reagent "A" and 2 drops of reagent "B"
(the latter freshly prepared on the day of use). Stir, let stand for one
minute and compare the intensity of blue color with the color chart.
If more than 1 drop of reagent "A" is added, the test is abnor-
mally high. If more than 2 drops of reagent "B" are used, or if that
reagent contains more than the designated amount of stannous oxalate,
a "dirty" blue or greenish blue color results.
The test should be read in one minute since, with a longer period
of standing, the soil extracting solution, when tested as a blank, de-
velops a definite blue color. Also, the blue color tends to develop
a hue not readily matched with the chart, upon standing for a longer
Occasional golf greens soils and other soils that have been treated
with mercury compounds have been encountered that yield a grayish
to black precipitate upon the addition of reagent "B". This is due to
reduction to metallic mercury by the stannous compound in this rea-
gent. In such a case, the phosphorus cannot be reliably measured.
Soils that have been treated with heavy amounts of arsenic com-
pounds for insect grub or earthworm control may give abnormally
high posphorus tests. However, moderate treatments and arsenical
spray residues rarely affect the test, by the procedure described above.
Potassium test 3 : Transfer 10 drops of the soil extract to the test
vial (10 mm. inside diameter). Add 1 drop of reagent "A" and 10
drops of reagent "B". Let stand one minute; shake the vial gently
and let stand two minutes longer. Estimate the resulting amount of
yellow precipitate by the following use of the "line" chart:
Hold the vial vertically, directly over the lines on the chart,
with the bottom of the vial 1 inch above them. Look down
through the vial at the different groups of lines, until the set is
found which can be barely perceived. The test is read which cor-
responds to this set of lines.
The printed "line" chart does not permit precise differentiation at
the lowest tests. If but the faintest perceptible turbidity is to be ob-
served, the estimate should be "very low", with a Relative Test Index
of 1. If the liquid remains clear and limpid, the estimate should be
"extra low", with a Relative Test Index of 0.5.
If the test is beyond the visibility of the deepest lines on the chart
preliminary dilution of the extract with the extracting solution may be
lade. It is necessary to mix fully the diluted liquid before testing.
J This is adapted from the procedure originally proposed by the author (35).
2 This is adapted from the color reaction test of Deniges (12).
3 This is adapted from the method originally proposed by Bray (6).
598 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
Calcium test 1 : Transfer 10 drops of the soil extract to the test
vial. Add 1 drop of the reagent, shake vigorously and let stand for
five minutes. Compare the resultant white turbidity with the chart,
using the following procedure:
Hold the vial vertically over the black background to the
left of the gray discs, with the bottom of the vial one inch above
the chart. Look down through the vial, comparing it with the
various discs on the chart.
Magnesium test 2 : Transfer 10 drops of the soil extract to the
spot plate. Add 1 drop of reagent "A-2" and 3 drops of reagent "B".
Stir, let stand one minute and compare the resultant light salmon to
deep red color with the chart.
If a "high" or "very high" reading is found, it is desirable to re-
peat the test, using reagent "A-l", which is especially sensitive in this
range, in place of reagent "A-2". The procedure is otherwise the
same. A deep blue test is read as "very high", while with decreasing
amounts of magnesium, lavender and pink colors are obtained. No
separate chart is included for reagent "A-l". In the lower ranges
of magnesium concentration, reagent "A-2" gives more readable tests.
The magnesium test is somewhat affected by aluminum in amounts
sufficient to give high or very high tests. Under such conditions, the
magnesium test is somewhat lower than should be represented by the
amount actually extracted from the soil. Due allowance should be
made for this factor in interpreting the tests.
Soils of high active calcium content give extracts that tend to
coagulate the magnesium color, making test readings difficult and un-
reliable. This may be overcome in most cases by adding 4 drops of
a 50 percent glycerin solution prior to adding Reagent "A". The
liquid in the test cup should be stirred thoroughly with a glass rod
before adding Reagent "B".
Aluminum test 3 : Transfer 2 drops of the soil extract to the spot
plate. Add 2 drops of the Universal soil extracting solution and 1
drop of the reagent. Let stand one minute, and compare the resultant
yellow, brownish yellow to lavender color with the chart. The true
top color is slightly more blue than shown.
If a "dirty" blue-gray color results from this test, it is indicative
of abnormal concentrations of active ion; hence a test for this constit-
uent is desirable.
After completing the reading, add 1 drop of the aluminum stain
remover (1:1 HC1) and shake the block gently before washing it.
This prevents the formation of a stain on the porcelain which inter-
feres with subsequent tests.
'This is adapted from the procedure proposed by the author (35).
2 This is adapted from the spot plate test of Feigl (18) in the employment of the "A-l"
reagent, and from the method of Spurway (45) in the use of the "A-2" reagent.
3 This is adapted from the use of logwood extract in the testing for aluminum by Colwell
and Parker (9).
Details of Universal Soil Testing Methods 599
Manganese tests 1 : Transfer 10 drops of the soil extract to the
spot plate. Add 2 drops of reagent "A", stir and add 1 drop of rea-
gent "B". Stir and compare the resultant blue color with the chart
as quickly as possible, since the intensity of color fades rapidly after a
If more than 1 drop of reagent "B" is added, or if the tip of the
pipette used in transferring that reagent is abnormally large, the test
may fail, since too much alkalinity interferes with the test.
If the soil contains abnormal concentrations of nitrite nitrogen,
a brownish yellow discoloration is to be noted in the routine manga-
If no perceptible blue color is detected, add 2 drops of reagent
"C". Stir at once with a glass rod and let stand for two minutes.
If not more than a faint blue color appears, the test is recorded as
"negative", and the soil contains less than 2 pounds of manganese per
acre. If there is a strong blue color, without a trace of green or yel-
low, a "'trace" amount is read, representing approximately 2 pounds
per acre. If the color is green, gradually changing to yellow, this
is recognized as "trace plus", or approximately 3 pounds per acre.
If any blue color was apparent in the previous stage of testing, a deep
yellow to orange-yellow color develops almost at once.
The above additional procedure is especially useful in differenti-
ating soils suspected of being manganese-deficient.
The following alternate procedure may also be used to advantage
when little or no reaction is obtained from the above method: Trans-
fer 10 drops of the soil extract to the spot plate. Add 1 drop of rea-
gent "C" and 1 drop of the special supplemental reagent (Tetrabase
solution). A deep blue color develops almost at once in soils usually
rated as "very low" or better by the regular method. When the re-
sultant color is only faintly blue, the test may be considered as "nega-
tive". With experience, an operator can readily distinguish differ-
ences between tests even with the traces of extractable manganese
that usually typify manganese-deficient soils. A similar method has
been used by Thomas. (48) It should also be noted that traces of
the violet permanganate color can be observed upon the addition of
reagent "C", alone, after two or three minutes, when the extract con-
tains a considerable amount of manganese.
Special Chemical Tests
One or more of the following tests may be of definite diagnostic
value, under conditions that seem to warrant them, or when the ab-
normal conditions of the soil are not evidently correlated with the
Iron test (both ferric and ferrous) 1 : Transfer 10 drops of the
extract to the spot plate. Add 3 drops of reagent "A" and 1 drop
^his is adapted from the spot plate test of Feigl (16).
2 This was introduced by the author (37) as a soil test.
600 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
of reagent "B". Stir, let stand two minutes. The resultant colors
indicate amounts approximately as follows:
In this and subsequent iron tests, care should be taken to prevent
the soil extracting solution or soil extract from coming in contact with
any implement or piece of apparatus containing metallic iron.
Ferric iron test: Transfer 10 drops of the soil extract to the
spot plate. Add 3 drops of reagent "A" and 1 drop of reagent "B".
Stir and let stand two minutes. The resultant colors represent
amounts approximately as follows:
Color Test Test Index
Deep brownish red Very high 10
Medium brownish red High 8
Pale brownish red Medium high 6
Very pale brownish red Medium 4
Slight reddish tint Low 2
Very faint reddish tint Very low 1
Ferrous iron test: Transfer 10 drops of the soil extract to the
spot plate. Add 2 drops of reagent "A" and 1 drop of reagent "B".
Stir and let stand two minutes. The resultant colors and correspond-
ing tests are the same as indicated for the above general iron test
(ferric and ferrous).
A suggested alternate test for ferrous iron employs a reagent
prepared as follows: A 1 percent aqueous solution of alpha-alpha-
dipyridyl, aciduated with 1 ml. of concentrated hydrochloric acid per
100 ml. Ten drops of the soil extract, treated with 2 drops of this
reagent, give a deep red color when considerable ferrous iron is
present, grading to no color when no ferrous iron is present. This
is a somewhat more sensitive test than that described above.
Sulfate sulfur test: Transfer 10 drops of the soil extract to the
test vial. Add 1 drop of the reagent. Shake vigorously and let stand
for five minutes. The calcium chart is used in reading the results.
Since this test is not sensitive over the range of concentrations
existing in most soils of humid regions, except as a result of heavy ap-
plications of sulfate materials, it is not conducted as a routine pro-
Nitrite 1 nitrogen test: Transfer 10 drops of the soil extract to
the spot plate. Add 1 drop of the nitrite reagent, 1 drop of hydro-
chloric acid (1:1) and 4 drops of magnesium reagent "B" (15 percent
NaOH). Stir and let stand one minute. The resultant colors may
be rated from the following:
'This is adapted from the test as employed by Spurway (45).
Details of Universal Soil Testing Methods 601
Color Test Test Index
Yellowish orange Very high 10
Orange yellow High 7
Lemon yellow Medium 4
Pale yellow Low 2
Trace of yellowish tint Very low 1
Soils very rarely show readable nitrite tests under normal field
Sodium test 1 : Since the Universal soil extracting solution con-
tains sodium, the soil must be extracted with special sodium extracting
solution. The procedure of extraction is not otherwise different.
Transfer 5 drops of the extract, thus obtained, to a test vial.
Add 20 drops (1 ml.) of the reagent. Shake vigorously at one minute
intervals for 10 minutes and compare, using the potassium chart.
Soils in humid regions, except those receiving overflow water
from oceanic tides, rarely show readable tests by this procedure.
This test is especially applicable to alkaline conditions existing in arid
Chloride test 2 : Since the Universal soil extracting solution gives
a precipitate of silver acetate when tested with the chloride reagent,
the soil must be extracted with the special chloride extracting solution,
or by distilled water, if clear extracts can be obtained thus. The
procedure of extraction is the same in other respects.
Transfer 10 drops of the soil extract, so obtained, to the test
vial. Add 1 drop of the reagent. Shake vigorously, and compare,
using the calcium chart.
This test is valuable on saline soils, or when contamination from
sea water or sea spray is suspected. Normal soils of humid regions
rarely give readable tests, except when recently receiving liberal
amounts of fertilizers containing chlorides.
Carbonate test: A soil containing carbonates in appreciable
amounts is readily identified by the development of effervescence on
the soil surface when the Universal soil extracting solution is filtered
through it. This usually results in the development of a convex soil
surface at the end of the extraction. No quantitative measurement is
Soils high in carbonates also give extracts which show white
precipitates on the addition of an alkaline reagent (Ammonia reagent
or magnesium reagent "B"). Normally this precepitate does not in-
terfere with the color reactions and is due to the formation of calcium
hydroxide in excess of its solubility.
Boron test 3 : Place 1 level tablespoonful of soil in a 30 ml. beaker
Add the Universal soil extracting solution slowly, a few drops at a
iThis is adapted from the test as employed by Spurway (45).
2 This is adapted from the test as employed by Spurway (45).
3 This is adapted from the test proposed by the author (38). Helpful suggestions have been
provided by T. R. Swanback of this Station.
602 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
time, stirring the soil mass with a glass rod, until the soil is thoroughly
wetted. Add an additional 5 ml. quantity of the soil extracting so-
lution. Stir for one minute. Filter. Transfer 5 drops of the extract
to a spot plate depression. Add 2 drops of pure glycerin (AR). Add
1 drop of reagent "A" and 6 drops of reagent "B". Stir thoroughly
and let stand for 15 minutes. A clear lemon yellow is negative, re-
presenting an amount of boron below the limits of sensitivity of the
test. Boron is indicated by increasing depths of a reddish color. A
golden yellow, very slightly tinged with red, appears at approximately
2 p. p.m. in the extract. At 4 p.p.m., a pale peach color appears. At
10 p.p.m., a deep peach color develops. At 20 p.p.m., a salmon red is
in evidence. At 50 p.p.m., or higher concentrations, a full red color
is obtained. The color deepens quite materially during the first few
Boron tests should be conducted at the same time as "blank" tests
on the Universal soil extracting solution itself. The number of drops
of reagent "B" may need to be adjusted. It should be 1 drop less
than the amount required to produce a barely perceptible reddish
tinge to the blank test. (A red color can be developed in the ab-
sence of boron, by adding an excess of the acid reagent "B".
Boron tests should be calibrated carefully on the basis of stan-
dards prepared from boric acid dissolved in the Universal soil ex-
It has been noted that with soils giving high iron or aluminum
tests the boron test color may be erroneously in evidence, while high
amounts of nitrates tend to diminish the sensitivity of the test.
Hence, if possible, the boron test should be confirmed by em-
ploying a laboratory procedure, such as the hot water extract method
of Berger and Truog (3). It is doubtful if the limits of boron de-
ficiency for most crops can be estimated by the quick test procedure.
Zinc test 1 : Prepare the soil extract in the same manner as for the
boron test. Transfer 10 drops of the extract to a test vial. Add 4
drops of reagent "A" and 10 drops of reagent "B". Shake thorough-
ly and let stand for two minutes. Add 20 drops of reagent "C".
Shake gently and let stand for 10 minutes. The appearance of a blue
color at the film of contact between the ether and the aqueous solu-
tion is evidence of zinc. A barely perceptible film of blue indicates
approximately 10 parts per million in the extract. Above about 25
p.p.m., a blue precipitate begins to accumulate in the bottom of the
vial. The test should be compared with those obtained from stan-
dard amounts of zinc as zinc acetate, dissolved in the Universal soil
extracting solution. It has not yet been possible to calibrate the
above amounts in the extract in terms of that which is active in the
soil. However, the presence of considerable zinc, thus shown, is evi-
dence of the accumulation of harmful concentrations, as occassionally
found in the vicinity of industrial plants processing zinc ore or metal.
J This is adapted from the method of Krumbholz and Sauchez (30).
Details of Universal Soil Testing Methods 603
Copper test 1 : Prepare the soil extract as for the boron test.
Transfer 10 drops of the extract to the spot plate.. Add 2 drops of
the reagent. Stir and let stand for five minutes. A barely percepti-
ble trace of greenish yellow color is observed when approximately
2 p. p.m., of copper are present in the extract. The color deepens
in greenish hue, with higher amounts, being quite definite at 5 p. p.m..
at 10 p. p.m., a good apple green color is developed. Readings
of the test should be calibrated against standard amounts of copper,
as copper sulfate, dissolved in the Universal soil extracting solution.
The copper test is especially useful in examining soils with con-
siderable accumulations of spray residues.
Mercury test 2 : Prepare the soil extract as for the boron test.
Transfer 10 drops of the extract to the spot plate. Add 2 drops of
the reagent. Add 3 drops of sodium hydroxide solution (same as
Magnesium reagent "B"). Stir and let stand for one minute. A pale
salmon red, from the indicator itself, is a negative test. A deep sal-
mon red is observed when approximately 5 p. p.m. are present in the
extract. The color is a deep red at 10 p. p.m., violet red at 20 p. p.m..
violet at 50 p. p.m., purple at 100 p. p.m. Readings of the test should
be calibrated against standard amounts of mercuric chloride, dissolved
in the Universal soil extracting solution.
The mercury test is occasionally useful in revealing mercury ac-
cumulations from fungicides containing this element. It confirms the
indication of mercury in the phosphorus test, and is considerably
Lead test 3 : Prepare the soil extract as for the boron test.
Transfer 5 drops of the extract to the test vial. Squeeze out 1 drop
of the reagent upon the center of the liquid surface. The green col-
ored spot thus formed should remain undisturbed. Observe during
a two-minute period. If the color of the spot remains green, no
measurable amount of lead is present in the extract. At approximate-
ly 10 p. p.m. (in the extract), an olive green hue develops in two min-
utes; at 20 p. p.m., the resultant color is olive brown; at 40 p.p.m., — •
reddish brown; at 60 p.p.m. — brick red within one minute; at 100
p.p.m. — brick red in one half minute.
The lead test is useful in identifying soils treated with lead com-
pounds in insect control, or soils contaminated with lead compounds
as residues from sprayed crops. It should be noted that mercury
compounds give a golden yellow color, and zinc salts give a cherry
red color, with the reagent used in the lead test.
Arsenic test 4 : Prepare the soil extract as for the boron test.
Place a few grains of granular zinc in the bottom of a test vial. Add
5 drops of concentrated sulfuric acid. Add 10 drops of the soil ex-
tract. Place a disc of filter paper, approximately 15 mm. in diameter.
iThis is adapted from the method proposed by Hosking (29).
2 This is adapted from the method of Feigl and Neuber ( 17 ) .
3 This is adapted from the method of Fischer (21).
4 This is adapted from the Feigl (19) modification of the original Gutzeit test.
604 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
over the top of the test vial. Moisten the filter paper with 1 drop
of silver nitrate solution (Chloride reagent). Shake the vial gently
several times, until gas bubbles are freely liberated. Let stand for
two minutes. Examine the bottom side of the test paper disc. A
faint yellowish or silvery sheen, with no perceptible darkening, is a
negative test, the slight coloration resulting from other constituents
that may be present. With increasing amounts of arsenic, the test
paper shows darker spots. The test is sensitive to approximately 10
parts per million in the extract.
The arsenic test is useful in studying arsenic accumulations and
residues from insect control treatments, sprays and dusts.
All glassware, spot plates, stirring rods, etc., should be washed
with clean tap water and rinsed with distilled water immediately after
being used. The spot plates require occasional cleaning with a sul-
furic acid-dichromate cleaning solution, to remove stains.
The eyedropper pipettes may be flushed by vigorously pumping
water from a beaker in and out of them by intermittent pressure on
their bulbs. Any adhering precipitates should be carefully brushed
loose from the bottoms of the test vials before final rinsing.
Reagent bottles should be kept clean, and encrustations should
not be permitted to accumulate around their caps.
Any reagent that fails to give a satisfactory blank test with the
soil extracting solution, or that fails to give high tests on "check"
soils consistently giving high results on previous trials for a given
constituent, should be rejected and replaced.
Transfer pipettes calibrated in .05 ml. subdivisions give greater ac-
curacy of measurement. One drop is assumed to represent .05 ml.,
but there is a considerable discrepancy between many of the com-
mercial eyedropper pipettes.
The Adaptation of the Tests to Plant Tissue Testing
During the past few years, numerous investigators have found
it desirable to supplement quick tests of soils with similar tests con-
ducted on fresh plant tissue or plant tissue extracts. It has been fre-
quently possible thus to verify a case of suspected crop deficiency or
other nutrient abnormality. The visible symptoms produced by ser-
ious deficiency or excess of a given constituent are frequently recog-
nized by the trained observer. Such symptoms are well illustrated
in a recent joint publication of the American Society of Agronomy
and the National Fertilizer Association ( 1 ) . However, in the field,
the plant may suffer from combinations of various symptoms that are
not readily identifiable. Under such conditions chemical plant tissue
tests are often of much value.
Methods for such testing have been outlined by Thornton (49),
Carolus (8) and Hester (27). A suggested adaptation, employing the
Details of Universal Soil Testing Methods 605
Universal soil extracting solution and the various tests previously
described, is as follows:
Obtain fresh plant material from the growing crop, both from
normal and questionable plants. Select small lots of the leaf petioles
or succulent portions of the stem in the part of the plant most affected
by any observable abnormal symptoms. Using a clean sharp safety
razor blade, cut the material into fine bits not more than 2 mm. in
length or thickness. Place 0.5 gm. of the material in a 50 ml. Erlen-
meyer flask and add 10 ml. of the Universal soil extracting solution
and a pinch of decolorizing charcoal. Shake vigorously for five min-
utes, and filter. The extract may be tested for various constituents
by the procedures described for the soil tests. 1 The extract may re-
quire dilution with the extracting solution in order to bring the tests
to a distinguished scale. Such dilutions should be in definite ratios
(e.g.: 2 drops diluted to 10 drops, or 1 drop diluted to 4 drops).
The charts may be used in a comparative sense. However, no
definite ratings can be used for general application, since the magni-
tude of the tests obtained on different species and under different
growing conditions may vary significantly. Interpretations should be
based on comparisons between plants of the same species and age and
grown under the same general environment.
Hester (27) has proposed the use of the Waring blender or sim-
ilar equipment for the comminution of the plant tissue material. In
this procedure, 5 gms. of the tissue and 100 ml. of the extracting so-
lution, together with one-quarter teaspoonful of clarifying charcoal
(Darco or similar grade), are placed in the machine for a period of
three to five minutes, until thoroughly comminuted. After filtration,
the tissue extract is tested as usual. The amounts of decolorizing
charcoal required to give a colorless extract varies with the different
types of plant material.
Quantitative Calibration of Test Charts
The charts and scales of reading given in the back section of this
bulletin were initially based on an assumption that a given constituent
is extracted by the percolation of the 10 ml. portion through the soil
mass in a fairly definite relation to the total amount that would become
active, or extractable, by a series of successive extractions repeated
until all that can be thus removed is recovered. On this basis, the
first approximates the following percentages of the total thus extract-
Nitrate nitrogen — 80 percent; ammonia nitrogen — 50 percent;
phosphorus — 4' percent; potassium — 50 percent; calcium — 50 per-
cent; magnesium — 50 percent; aluminum— 10 percent; manganese
— 20 percent; iron — 20 percent; sulfur — 80 percent; nitrite ni-
trogen — 80 percent; Sodium — 60 percent; chlorides — 80 percent.
*In the manganese test on plant tissue extract, use four drops of reagent "A".
606 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
In the above connection, it is of interest to note that practically
all of the nitrate and similar water-soluble constituents are removed
by four successive extractions. The exchangeable bases, such as po-
tassium, calcium and magnesium, are obtained in six or seven portions.
On the other hand, the phosphorus concentrations of the second ex-
tract is usually slightly higher than the first. Successive extractions
diminish only slightly in phosphorus content, even up to the twentieth
portion. Aluminum and iron diminish slowly in concentration for six
or seven extractions, and thereafter remain practically constant, with
definite amounts of these constituents proportional to the amount in
the first extract.
In previous publications on the Universal soil testing system
(Bulletins 372 and 392) these relationships have been used to calcu-
late the number of pounds per acre to plow depth that would be repre-
sented by the test. Such an expression of results provides a helpful
concept in evaluating the magnitude of the test, but has been fre-
quently misused, or applied too literally, in the interpretation of re-
sults by some soil testing laboratories using these methods. Hence
it has been decided to substitute the use of a Relative Test Index
scale developed in the course of the correlation of results of the A.S.A.
soil testing study referred to on a preceding page. This rating in-
dex scales up to 10 for the normal range of tests ordinarily en-
countered. The Index Number provides a helpful basis for comparing
the quantitative magnitude of the test, and simplifies comparisons be-
Composite solution standards for the calibration o£ the charts:
The color and turbidity charts given in this bulletin are the results
of the best efforts of the engraver and printer. However, it is very
difficult to obtain reproductions by the photo-engraving process. It
is desirable to check them with solutions containing various concen-
trations representing the ranges of sensitivity of the tests. The fol-
lowing scheme employs a series of single stock solutions for each
of the constituents in the routine tests. These are combined in a
series of three mixed stock solutions that may be kept ready for ref-
erence at any time. The mixed stock solutions are combined and
diluted in varying proportions in order to furnish convenient quanti-
ties for immediate comparisons. (Calculations from the exact con-
centrations employed, through the successive mixtures and dilutions,
should not be used in an exact quantitative sense when such mixed
standard is employed.)
1. Prepare separate solutions for each constituent, dissolving
quantities of the C.P. chemical shown in the following table in 100
ml. of the Universal soil extracting solution:
Details of Universal Soil Testing Methods
NaH 2 PO,.H 2
Ca(GH 3 2 ) 2 .H 2
Mg(GH 3 2 ) 2 .4H 2
A1C1 3 .6H 2
MnS0 4 .4H 2
per 100 ml.
2. Prepare three mixed stock solutions from the above separate
Mixed Stock Solution "A"
10 ml. of N0 3 N ( 300 p.p.m.)
10 " " NH 4 N (1000 " )
10 " " P ( 80 "
10 " " Mg (500 " )
10 " " Universal soil extracting solution
Mixed Stock Solution "B"
10 ml. of K ( 1,000 p.p.m.)
io " ;; Ca (15,000 " )
30 " Universal soil extracting solution
Mixed Stock Solution "C"
10 ml. of Al (1,000 p.p.m.)
10 " " Mn ( 400 " )
30 " Universal Soil extracting solution
The above may conveniently be kept available for ready use in
2-ounce dropper bottles.
3. For chart calibration, set up a series of 6 one-half ounce glass
vials, numbered to correspond to Rating Index Number. A 10 ml.
mark should be provided on each vial.
The amounts of the three mixed stock solutions to be added to
each vial are as follows, in drops:
Relative Test Index:
Mixed Stock Solution
" " "
" " "
Make up the contents of each vial to the 10 ml. mark with Uni-
versal soil extracting solution. Mix thoroughly. Test for each con-
stituent as usual, except for Al, when U drops, undiluted, should be
tested. These standards are not suitable for the Mg-A-1 reagent pro-
cedure. When this reagent is used, omit mixed stock solution "C"
in preparing the standards. This reagent is unreliable in the presence
of significant concentrations of Al, and to some extent, in the
presence of Mn.
608 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
The special tests may be calibrated with appropriate solution
standards prepared from pure salts dissolved in the extracting solu-
tion and diluted to their proper range of sensitivity.
Application of Tests to Drainage Water from Soils, Irrigation Waters, Etc.
It is frequently desirable to obtain a rough picture of the relative
amounts of various soluble chemical constituents in the drainage water
from soils, water used for irrigation purposes, or from springs, wells
and streams. The tests used for soil extracts can be applied for this
purpose, although a few adjustments are required to compensate for
the poor buffer action of such dilute solutions. The modifications are
indicated below for the various routine and special tests that are thus
Ammonia nitrogen: Use only 1 drop of the test reagent.
Phosphorus: Use only 5 drops of the water, adding 5 drops of the Uni-
versal soil extracting solution. Use only 1 drop of reagent "B".
Calcium: Add 2 drops of the Universal soil extracting solution to 10
drops of the water and mix before adding the test reagent.
Magnesium: Add 5 drops of the Universal soil extracting solution to 10
drops of the water and mix before adding the test reagents. Use
only 2 drops of Reagent "B" (15 percent NaOH) in developing the
Aluminum: Use 4 drops of the water, add 1 drop of the Universal soil
extracting solution and mix before adding the test reagent.
Manganese: Add 1 drop of 1:3 acetic (one part glacial acetic acid to 3
parts of distilled water) to 10 drops of the water and mix before adding
the reagents. ,
Copper: Add 2 drops of the Universal soil testing solution to 10 drops of
the water and mix before adding the reagent.
Carbonates: Place 2 ml. of the water in a test vial that has been very thor-
oughly rinsed with distilled water. Add 1 drop of phenolphthalein indica-
tor (prepared by dissolving 0.5 gm. of phenolphthalein powder in 50 ml.
of ethyl alcohol and diluting to 100 ml.). A pink to red color indicates
the presence of carbonates. Add standard KHS0 4 solution (.034 gms.
of potassium acid sulfate dissolved in 100 ml. of distilled water) drop
by drop, until the pink color entirely disappears, after shaking. Each
drop thus required is equivalent to 50 parts of carbonate (C0 3 ) per
million, in the water tested.
In case it is desired also to estimate bicarbonates (HC0 3 ), add
1 drop of methyl orange indicator (0.1 gm. methyl orange in 50 ml.
ethyl alcohol, diluted, to 100 ml. with distilled water), and continue
the addition of KHS0 4 solution, drop by drop, until the yellow orange
color changes to reddish orange. Each drop of KHS0 4 solution re-
quired, not including the amount required to decolorize the phenolph-
thalein, is equivalent to approximately 75 parts of bicarbonate (HC0 3 )
per million, in the water tested.
The other tests are conducted exactly as previously described in
the section on soil extract testing.
Quantitative estimations in water tests: It is possible to make a
fair estimate of the concentration of the various soluble constituents
in water thus tested, within the range of sentivity of the test. Re-
Details of Universal Soil Testing Methods
suits are suitably expressed in terms of parts per million. The fol-
lowing table indicates the approximate amounts thus indicated, based
on the use of the charts or described colors.
Table 1. Approximate Quantitative Indications in Water Tests
Concentrations, in parts per million, at Relative Test Index
shown on chart, or described
Magnesium using A 2 reagent)
Manganese (A and B
10 to 100
Adaptation of Quick Tests to Saline or Alkali Soils
The method of soil extraction with an acetic acid-sodium acetate
buffer solution, such as employed in the Universal soil testing system,
is primarily adapted to soils of humid regions, containing relatively
low amounts of water-soluble salts, and either acid or only slightly
alkaline (below 8.2 pH) in reaction.
Saline or white alkali soils contain large amounts of water-soluble
salts, such as the chlorides and sulfates of sodium, magnesium and
calcium. When the salt concentration is fairly high (3,000 parts or
more per million), a mixture of the soil with distilled water, for in-
stance, 1 level teaspoonful per 10 ml. of distilled water, is sufficiently
flocculated by the presence of the salts to yield a clear water extract
upon filtration. However, if the salt concentration is low, or if the
soil is deflocculated by the presence of alkali carbonate, a clear water
extract is not thus obtained.
A suitable procedure for obtaining clear, colorless extracts of soils
that may be reliably tested for the common alkali or saline constitu-
ents is as follows:
Place 1 teaspoonful of the soil in a 30 ml. beaker. Add 10 ml.
of distilled water to which from 1 to 5 drops of a neutral 1 percent
copper acetate solution have been added. (Heavy soils low in salts
require more copper acetate to effect clarification. Use no more than
610 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
is actually necessary to give a clear filtrate). Stir thoroughly for one
minute, and filter through a paper of the quality used in the usual
The extract may be subjected to various tests following the
techniques recommended for drainage waters, etc. The copper test,
of course, cannot be included. The most useful tests are those for
chlorides, sulfates, nitrates, sodium, calcium, magnesium and potas-
sium. "Black alkali" soils yield extracts showing the presence of sol-
uble carbonates by the phenolphthalein indicator. However, a pH
test of the soil should be employed to confirm the presence of alkali.
(Black alkali soils are indicated by pH tests above 8.5).
THE INTERPRETATION OF SOIL TESTS
SOIL test data should be considered with reference to the limit-
ing effects on crop growth that may be expected from other factors,
such as the following: poor aeration or restricted root system caused
by undesirable soil structure or soil tilth, deficient drainage, unfavor-
able seasonal conditions, plant pests, plant diseases. Irrespective of
the chemical fertility of the soil, the crop expectation is less than nor-
mal when one or more of these factors is in operation. It is impractic-
able to seek to attain the most desirable tests on soils otherwise re-
stricted in productive capacity.
The economic productive level of the crop under consideration
determines to a marked degree the extent to which one can afford to
build up the fertility level of the soil. Fertilizers can be profitably
applied in much larger amounts for crops capable of giving high net
returns, per acre. This is conspicuously true of intensive vegetable
crops, tobacco or potatoes, as contrasted with hay or pasture crops.
Soil test should be compared in the light of past practices with
respect to fertilizers, manures and lime. Many obvious correlations
may be observed. On the other hand, when the soil treatment has
been so favorable as to justify an expectation of relatively high
ratings for phosphorus, potassium and calcium, and a low test for alu-
minum, the explanation for less desirable tests should be sought,
giving consideration to the fixing power of the soil and the degree of
exhaustion of available constituents that could be accomplished by
Some tests, notably those for nitrate and ammonia nitrogen, de-
pend upon temporary conditions, such as the activities of soil micro-
organisms, seasonal effects and amounts of leaching that have been
in recent operation. A test may be given much weight, or entirely
disregarded, depending upon whether or not the conditions have been
such as to favor the accumulation of such conditions in the soil.
The interrelation of various quick tests and the pH test should
be especially considered. Chemical soil fertility is best estimated from
a study of the composite pattern thus presented.
Interpretation of Soil Tests 611
No definite limits for favorable or unfavorable soil tests can be
set for a given constituent, even for a particular crop, that will apply
under all conditions. Sound judgment, thorough agronomic training
and much experience in the applying of the results of soil tests on soils
of known performance are all essential to the diagnostic interpretation
of soil tests in terms of soil management practices. A laboratory tech-
nician who can follow simple chemical routines can be quickly trained
to make tests described in this bulletin. The practical value of the
tests is limited chiefly by the qualifications of the person who is re-
sponsible for translating the data into amounts and kinds of fertilizers,
manures, lime and other soil amendments that are most likely to be
effective in promoting profitable crop production.
The following details pertaining to soil test interpretation are
based chiefly upon the author's experience in applying soil test re-
sults to many thousands of cases, chiefly on Connecticut soils, during
the past 10 years, and to nearly 200 soils that have been exhaustively
studied both by laboratory analyses and by crop responses to various
treatments in greenhouse pot cultures. However, they may need to
be considerably modified in interpreting soil test results on soils of
other sections of the country, or for crops other than those commonly
grown in this locality.
The interpretation of pH tests: As previously stated, pH tests
do not directly indicate lime needs. The amount of lime required to
change a soil from a given pH to a higher, less acid-indicating one,
depends not only upon the change in pH to be effected, but also
upon the base exchange capacity of the soil, chiefly as related to the
organic matter and clay content of the soil within a given region.
The soils of Connecticut may be roughly classified into four groups,
as shown in Table 2.
Table 2. Soil Groups in Terms of Lime absorption as Related
to pH Adjustment
Fine sandy 1
*ln terms of milligram equivalents per 100 gms. of soil
The degree of pH adjustment in the positive direction that is
desirable depends upon the minimum pH at which the crop will give
normal production on an otherwise favorable soil. Crops vary con-
Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
siderably in their range of adjustment to varying pH levels. How-
ever, for all practical purposes, four soil reaction preference groups
are now reasonably well established. Crops representing these
groups are shown in Table 3.
Table 3. Soil Reaction Preference Groups
Group "A" crops are preferably grown on soils ranging from
6.2 to 7.6 pH. However, if the soils give negative manganese tests,
and are above 6.4 pH, there are possibilities of manganese deficiency.
With high calcium and low aluminum tests, most of these crops may
be successfully grown at reactions as low as 5.8 pH.
Group "B" crops usually do well at reactions as low as 5.6 pH,
unless the calcium test is low, or the aluminum test is high. They are
not usually adversely affected by pH values up to 7.2, but it is pre-
ferable to maintain a slight degree of acidity (6.0 to 6.6 pH).
Group "C" crops do reasonably well down to as low as 5.0 pH,
unless the calcium test is very low or the aluminum test is very high.
The crops marked with an asterisk (*) need degrees of acidity rang-
ing from 5.0 to 5.6 pH, because of disease trouble favored by higher
Group "D" crops are favored by a considerable degree of acidity,
and may be grown successfully at reactions as low as 4.6 pH, if other
factors are properly adjusted. Potatoes require reactions below 5.2
pH in order to protect them from scab. The plants marked with a
dagger (t) are usually adversely affected by reactions above 5.4 pH.
Soils with high calcium tests, when the aluminum test is not
high, should be interpolated on the basis of recommendations for the
next lower crop group.
(Illustration: pH 5.6; very high calcium test; very low aluminum
test. For crops in group II, lime as for crops in group HI.)
Soils with high aluminum tests should be limed on the basis of
the next lower pH interval, for the first two crop groups.
Interpretation of Soil Tests
(Illustration: 5.6 pH; high aluminum test; low calcium test,
on basis of recommendations for 5.2 pH.)
Soils with low to extra low magnesium tests (relative test in-
dex below 3) should be limed with dolomitic (magnesian) lime if
the pH test indicates that lime is needed. If the pH is sufficiently
high so as not to require lime, magnesium should be used as mag-
nesium sulfate or 'double manure salts".
If the calcium is very low, and the magnesium test is very high,
the liming should be in the form of a "high-calcic" material, preferably.
The following table (Table 4) is based on pH measurements
made in spring or late fall. If tests are made in midsummer, it is
desirable to add the following pH corrections, based on differences
in soil, for the various groups, before applying the table of lime re-
quirements at various pH levels:
Soil Group I — 0.5 pH
Soil Group II — 0.4 pH
Soil Group III — 0.3 pH
Soil Group IV — 0.2 pH
Table 4. Liming Recommendations for Various Crop Groups
In Relation To Soil and pH
Amounts in tons of agricultural limestone, per acre
(Use three-fourths these amounts of hydrated lime)
Z For crops of this group, a more acid soil is desirable.
* Fertilizers with an acid residual effect should he used.
Neutral fertilizers preferable.
X Fertilizers with an alkaline residual effect should be used, or very light liming is optional.
The amounts shown in the previous tables are based on lime ap-
plications made to cultivated land, thoroughly worked into the soil in
the preparation of the ground for cropping. When the lime is ap-
plied as a top-dressing, as on permanent sod, from one-half to one-
third as much is all that should be used, since the soil can only be af-
fected for two or three inches when lime is thus used.
614 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
Conditions Indicated by Various Quick Tests
Nitrogen tests (ammonia, nitrite and nitrate): Nitrogen exists in
the soil largely in the form of partially decomposed organic residues
containing proteins. Micro-organisms (bacteria and fungi) gradually
transform this nitrogen into ammonia compounds. Organic nitro-
genous fertilizer materials and leguminous crop residues are more
readily attacked due to their high protein content. Urea and cyanamid
are fertilizer materials that are rapidly hydrolyzed to produce am-
monium compounds, while nitrogen in this form is directly supplied
in fertilizer containing sulfate of ammonia, ammophos or ammoniated
Nitrogen in ammonium compounds may be utilized as such by
many plants, especially during their early growth, thus consuming the
visible supply as indicated by the test. However, the chief reason
for the failure of the ammonia test to reveal more than small amounts
on normal field conditions is due to the rapid change to nitrites and
nitrates by further bacterial activity. The pace of the change to ni-
trates is usually so rapid in proportion to that of the earlier stages
of nitrogen transformation that only a few weeks after fertilizer ap-
plications supplying much ammonia, little or no ammonia nitrogen and
no nitrite can be identified by tests. Except during a short period
after such fertilizer treatment, a substantial ammonia test is an indi-
cation of unfavorable conditions for nitrification, such as high acidity,
excessive or deficient moisture supply, or other abnormal factor.
Nitrite tests are rarely obtained, except as a temporary condition
occasionally resulting from a very heavy nitrogenous fertilizer treat-
ment that has not been well mixed into the soil, especially under poor
aeration resulting from excess water. Nitrite tests in more than trace
amounts should be considered as harmful. Instances of severe injury
to plant growth have been noted on soils showing medium to high
Irrespective of the diagnostic value of the ammonia tests, it is
desirable to make it in order to identify inaccurately high apparent
potassium tests on soils that contain unusual amounts of ammonia ni-
Nitrate nitrogen, whether formed in the soil from nitrification of
ammonia derived from organic residues and fertilizer materials, or
directly supplied in the fertilizer (as, for example, nitrate of soda),
is rapidly assimilated by the roots of living plants, and is readily lost
from the soil by the percolating action of heavy rains. Hence high tests
for nitrate nitrogen in field soils are to be expected only when the
root system of the crop is not yet fully developed.
High tests indicate a large reserve of readily available nitrogen
for the use of the crop as it begins to draw heavily upon the soil.
Rapidly growing annual crops require a larger reserve during the
early part of their life in the soil, since the gradual processes of ni-
trogen liberation are rarely sufficiently rapid to meet their require-
ments during the period of most active growth. Crops with perennial
Interpretation of Soil Tests 615
root systems, such as sod grasses, shrubs and trees, take up nitrogen
through a much longer period of the year, and low nitrate tests do
not necessarily indicate a lack of available nitrogen.
Low tests are to be expected at the end of the cropping period,
during winter and early spring, and after a period of heavy rainfall.
Under such conditions, when all other factors are favorable, the ab-
sence of nitrates may not indicate poor availability of soil nitrogen,
but the crop is apt to respond to the addition of a readily available
Abnormally high nitrate nitrogen tests are occasionally encoun-
tered in greenhouse and other intensively fertilized soils, and are an
indication of possible injury to the crop due to excessive concentration
of the nitrate salts. Such a condition may be corrected by leaching
the soils with large amounts of water.
Thus the nitrogen tests may either be given much significance or
practically disregarded, depending upon whether or not conditions are
favorable to the development of accumulations of these mobile con-
In order to give a reliable indication of the amount of readily
available nitrogen in the soil, tests may be made on samples which
have kept in "mellow-moist" condition, in a loosely covered vessel
at a temperature of 60° F. or above, for several weeks. Low nitrate
tests on such samples indicate real nitrogen deficiency in the soil.
However, it is rarely practicable to do this on account of the delay
Since other factors than the soil test are usually most important
in assessing the amount of available nitrogen that is likely to be sup-
plied by the soil during the active growing period of the crop, it is
convenient to recognize one or more of the soil characteristics that
are usually involved in rating a given soil with respect to the fol-
lowing Nitrogen Availability Classes:
I — High: Liberal manure applications (such as 15-25 tons of
stable manure) within a few months preceding the crop; unusually
favorable amount of soil organic matter, as indicated by dark color,
provided that the soil is well drained and not strongly acid; high to
very high nitrogen tests.
II — Medium: Light manure applications (8-14 tons of stable
manure) within a few months preceding the crop; a large green
manure or a heavy clover or alfalfa sod plowed under; medium to
medium high organic matter, as indicated by medium dark color,
under favorable drainage conditions; medium to medium high ni-
trogen test ratings.
Ill — Low : Average cultivated cropping conditions, or with
grass sod plowed under; loamv soil texture, with fair organic matter
content; low to very low nitrogen tests.
IV— Very Low : Cultivated crops on sandy soils of relatively
low organic content; very low nitrogen tests.
616 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
The phosphorus test: Phosphorus occurs in unfertilized soils in
slowly soluble mineral and organic combinations. It is a component
of all mixed fertilizers, and is frequently applied alone as superphos-
phate or bone meal.
Under high levels of fertilization, in excess of 500 pounds per acre
per year of fertilizers containing as much as 8 percent of "phosphoric
acid", crops remove less phosphorus than is applied to the soil. This
element is not leached downward. In soils of only moderate degrees
of acidity, applied phosphates remain for long periods in fairly avail-
able form. On highly acid soils, containing much active aluminum
and iron, difficultly soluble phosphate compounds are formed with
these elements. At low rates of fertilization, the phosphorus supplied
by the fertilizer results in little or no accumulation, and there may be
a net loss when little manure or fertilizer is used. When such a soil
receives little or no lime, low phosphorus availability is the most com-
The phosphorus test indicates the level of more readily available
phosphorus in the soil, either native or as a residue from previous ap-
plications. There are marked differences in the abilities of various
crops to thrive at the different degrees of phosphorus availibility
shown by this test. Most market garden crops, potatoes, tobacco,
and most legumes require applications of phosphatic fertilizers unless
high tests are obtained. Many soils showing only medium tests grow
good grass hay, corn, oats, and alsike clover with very little phosphorus
fertilization, when otherwise in a fertile state. Low or very low tests
indicate the necessity for proportionally high amounts of "phosphoric
acid" in the fertilizer, depending upon the crop grown.
The active phosphorus content of the soil is a fairly stable prop-
erty, except as affected by recent fertilizer application. Soils which
have received applications of arsenical materials may give high tests,
regardless of their phosphorus content. Hence results in such cases
are subject to question.
At a given level of phosphorus availability, higher pH values
(5.6 or above) tend to increase the test actually obtained. On the
other hand, at greater degrees of acidity (below 5.0 pH), considerable
amounts of slowly available aluminum and iron phosphates may be
present in soils giving low tests. Reasonable allowance should be
made for this factor, especially on soils known to have received con-
siderable amounts of phosphorus in fertilizer applications during pre-
The following conditions are usually to be considered in asso-
ciation with one another in determining the Phosphorus Availability
I — High: Liberal applications of complete fertilizers for sev-
eral years, especially on a sandy soil; a slight degree of acidity;
a low aluminum test; a high to very high phosphorus test.
II — Medium: Moderate applications of complete fertilizers
for several years: light loam or sandy loam texture; moderate to
Interpretation of Soil Tests 617
slight acidity; a medium aluminum test; a medium or medium high
Ill — Low: Light, infrequent fertilizer applications; a strong
degree of acidity; a medium to high aluminum test; a low or medium
low phosphorus test.
IV — Very Low : No fertilizers on previous crops; a loam,
silt loam or clay loam soil; a very strong degree of acidity; a high
or very high aluminum test; a very low phosphorus test.
The potassium test: Potassium occurs in soils in large amounts
in the form of difficultly soluble rock minerals. Their gradual de-
composition liberates small quantities of potassium which are loosely
combined with colloidal material (clay and humus) capable of being
displaced into the soil solution by base exchange reactions. Potas-
sium is also added to the soil in fertilizers containing potash, or as
manures or crop residues, and largely goes over into the exchangeable
form. Some potassium is removed from the soil by leaching, especial-
ly when under cultivation and liberally fertilized.
The active potassium of the soil, best capable of nourishing the
crop, is that which exists in exchangeable form, or in true solution.
Quick tests indicate such supplies of this constituent.
Active potassium may be removed from the soil more rapidly
than replenished by natural process. Thus tests may be lower at
the end of the growing season of a crop with high potash require-
ments, than after the soil has been fallow or supporting little vege-
tation for several months. Hence most reliable tests are obtained
in the spring, prior to fertilization.
Soils treated with liberal amounts of potassium fertilizers in re-
cent years may contain some residues of moderately available potas-
sium that are not recoverable by the methods of extraction des-
cribed in this bulletin. This is due to the fixation of applied potassium
in the non-exchangeable forms, from which the element may be more
easily taken up by the crop than from the potassium existing in native
soil minerals. Reasonable allowance for this factor should be made
under such conditions.
The following conditions are usually to be considered in associa-
tion with one another in determining the Potassium Availability
I — High : Heavy applications of complete fertilizers, supplying
from 120 to 200 pounds of potash per acre, annually, or heavy
treatment with manure of good quality; a loamy soil texture; cal-
cium or magnesium tests not unusually high in relation to the po-
tassium test; a high to very high potassium test.
II — Medium: Moderate applications of complete fertilizers,
supplying from 40 to 100 pounds of potash per acre during recent
years; fair applications of manure of good quality; intensive crop-
ping; a medium heavy soil texture; a medium to medium high po-
Ill — Lotv : Under intensive cropping, irrespective of past fer-
tilizer treatment; under average cropping, with little or no fertilizer
618 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
or manure, or with manure of poor quality (badly leached); a
fairly low potassium test.
IV — Very Low : No fertilizer or manure; very sandy soil tex-
ture; a very low or extra low potassium test.
The calcium test: Calcium in soils occurs in the form of un-
decomposed carbonates (in calcareous soils), rock minerals, as ex-
changeable calcium (absorbed by the soil colloids) and as soluble cal-
cium salts. Acid soils contain no carbonates and are depleted in ex-
changeable calcium. However, many soils which show a considerable
degree of acidity by pH tests may have a fair amount of exchangeable
calcium. This is especially true of soils high in organic matter or
active mineral colloids. In many cases the calcium test is a better
indication of lime needs than is the pH test.
Soils with high and very high calcium tests contain adequate
amounts of calcium for all crops. Usually they do not respond to
liming, unless a high active aluminum concentration is indicated.
Medium calcium tests on soils near the neutral point may be expected
on light sandy soils, but on acid soils a need for lime is revealed for
growing alfalfa, sweet clover and lime-loving vegetable crops. A low
calcium test on soils with a high aluminum test is a certain indication
of lime requirement for all except the most acid-tolerant plants, such
as blueberries, strawberries, or ericaceous shrubs. When a very low
test results, lime should be used in liberal amounts for most crops,
unless only moderate applications may be made with safety on ac-
count of disease factors.
Certain disease-producing soil organisms seem to be closely re-
lated to the available calcium in the soil, in relation to the other bases,
especially potassium and magnesium. Thus club root is made less
severe by increasing the calcium supply. Physiological root distur-
bances, such as the brown root rot of tobacco, are frequently engen-
dered by calcium deficiency. On the other hand, the black root rot of
tobacco and the scab organism on potatoes become more troublesome
on soils with higher relative amounts of calcium.
It must be borne in mind that, unless all other tests are satisfac-
tory, heavy liming may produce an abnormal soil balance. Thus
liming has frequently proven injurious on many sandy soils of the
southern United States which are deficient in other elements, such as
magnesium, manganese, potassium or iron. A deficiency of boron in
the soil is also accentuated by liming treatment.
The magnesium test: Magnesium occurs in soils in the follow-
ing forms: Dolomitic carbonates; unweathered minerals; exchange-
able magnesium, absorbed by the soil colloids; soluble magnesium
High and very high tests for magnesium are developed from cal-
careous soils derived from dolomitic limestones, and from moderately
acid soils resulting from the weathering of rocks high in ferro-magne-
sian minerals. Medium tests are more common on soils of moderate
acidity, on calcareous soils from high calcic limestones, or on soils
Interpretation of Soil Tests 619
which have been moderately limed with material of dolomitic origin.
Low tests are common on acid soils. Some strongly acid soils give very
low or negative tests. This is particularly true of sandy soils. In such
cases magnesium should be applied. The cheapest form is in dolomitic
lime or limestones. On soils giving high calcium and very low mag-
nesium tests, or pH values as high as desired for the crop, magnesium
sulfate or other magnesium compounds commercially reclaimed from
sea water may be used in order to supply magnesium without sweeten-
ing the soil. Commercial fertilizers which are thus formulated are
now on the market.
The aluminum test: Aluminum occurs in large amounts in all
soils, in the form of undecomposed minerals and in the inorganic col-
loidal material. In neutral, slightly acid or slightly alkaline soils, the
element is in inert combinations that have no direct effect upon plant
growth. At greater degrees of acidity, aluminum becomes active,
capable of combining as soluble salts and thus exerting a toxic effect
upon the growth of many plants, especially those which are benefited
by liming when grown on acid soils. A high or very high test is a
certain index of an undesirably acid soil, upon which acid-sensitive
crops are almost certain to fail. A medium test is not serious, especially
with grasses, corn, oats, potatoes, and tobacco. A low or negative
test is desirable, except for distinctly acid-tolerant plants.
The manganese test: Manganese occurs in small amounts in all
soils, chiefly in relatively insoluble combinations. In some calcareous
soils and acid soils that have been heavily limed, practically no man-
ganese is present in active forms, and some crops are unable to ob-
tain even the small amounts necessary to meet their requirements.
Poor growth and a yellow, chlorotic condition result.
On the other hand, strongly acid soils may contain injurious con-
centrations of active manganese compounds. Under such conditions
liming is a corrective measure.
Manganese is changed by oxidation to less active forms, or may
be leached from the soil. Hence tests are of most significance when
made just prior to planting or during crop growth. A negative test
at such time indicates the desirability of applying manganese. Twenty-
five pounds of commercial manganese sulfate per acre are usually
adequate to correct any possible deficiency. It is doubtful if man-
ganese is needed if any positive test whatsoever is developed.
Medium or moderately low tests are of little significance, except as
indicating no manganese deficiency. High or very high tests are un-
desirable on all acid soils, and indicate a need for lime. The signifi-
cance of high tests on soils which are neutral or alkaline has not yet
been thoroughly studied. However, it is not likely that the crop will
develop manganese toxicity except at the more acid soil reactions,
even though the test is high.
The iron test: Iron is an abundant constituent of all soils, ex-
isting in the form of iron oxides and many complex mineral combina-
tions. Normally only very small amounts of iron are in active form
620 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
in the ferric state of oxidation. Under conditions of high acidity,
larger amounts are to be found, and under poor drainage conditions,
especially in the presence of organic matter, active ferrous iron com-
pounds are developed. Soluble ferrous salts are harmful to plant
growth, and contribute to the infertility of poorly aerated soils.
The presence of very- low, yet definite amounts of active iron,
as revealed by the test, is desirable for all crops. Higher amounts,
on well drained soils, may not be injurious to crops capable of grow-
ing under strongly acid conditions. Abnormally high iron tests on
poorly drained soils indicate an unfavorable condition of soil aeration.
Negative iron tests may occasionally result on heavily limed
soils of excessive sandiness. In such cases, a chlorotic condition of
the leaves may develop, which is controlled by spraying the plants
with iron salts. No case of this sort has been encountered in this
Indication of other tests: Occasionally soils which give poor
crops contain unusual or harmful concentrations of other chemical con-
stituents. The presence of sea water or white alkali salts is indicated
by chloride, sodium and sulfate tests. Soluble carbonates and high
sodium tests indicate black alkali accumulations. Zinc, lead, copper,
mercury and arsenic tests suggest the development of injurious
amounts of these elements as a result of soil contamination by indus-
trial plants, or as residues from soil treatments to control plant
diseases or insects. The boron test may be applied when crops are
suspected of boron deficiency, and if a positive test is not obtained,
a more accurate laboratory test for boron should be applied.
ESTIMATING FERTILIZER NEEDS FROM NUTRIENT
IN preceding pages, it has been suggested that soils be rated,
with respect to nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium availability, in
four classes: "high", "medium", "low", and "very low". It has also
been emphasized that numerous other factors besides the chemical test
should be taken into consideration in such a rating.
It is also necessary to recognize the different fertility levels with
respect to the common fertilizer constituents that meet the require-
ments of the various crops. Crops differ in their abilities to give sat-
isfactory results at a given degree of chemical fertility. This is due
in part to actual differences in the amounts utilized by the crops, in
part to the indirect effects of the relative concentrations of the various
constituents of the active soil system upon the normal functioning of
the plant. Economic factors also make it impractical to provide a
crop of low acre value with the liberal amounts of "plant food" that
may be desirable for maximum yields.
The various common field and vegetable crop plants, for Con-
necticut conditions, have been arranged in four groups with respect
Estimating Fertilizer Needs 621
to the practicable minimum fertility levels for the three principal fer-
tilizer constituents. These groupings are shown in Table 5.
Table 5. Common Crops of Connecticut, Classified According
To Relative Requirements for Various Fertilizer Constituents
Requirement Group: A — very high (A+ — extra high), B — high, C — medium, D — low
(D* — nitrogen supply from legume organisms)
Beans, lima or string
r, " * late
Corn, sweet, early
" , " late
" , late
Feed, Hay and
Blue grass, Kentucky
, wild white
Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
Green Manure Crops
Peas, field Canada
, Perennials and Bulbs
Lawns, parks and fairways
Putting greens and bowling greens B
The amounts of the three principal fertilizer constituents, in terms
of pounds of nitrogen (N), "phosphoric acid" (P 2 5 ) and "potash"
(K 2 0) per acre, that "would be likely to prove effective on soils of
varying nutrient availability classes, for the above crop requirement
groups, are shown in Table 6.
Table 6. Amounts of Fertilizer Constituents (N, P 2 5 or K 2 0), in Lbs.
Per Acre, in Relation to Soil Fertility Levels and Crop Requirements
Crop Requirement Group
The above amounts are on the basis of broadcast applications. When applied
in bands along the rows, according to approved methods of placement, the quantities
may be approximately 60 percent of those shown in the Table.
Estimating Fertilizer Needs 623
The following examples illustrate the above scheme of estimating
desirable fertilizer applications, utilizing both soil tests and other per-
Case 1. Farmer Jones has a field of well-drained, me-
dium brown, loam soil, in grass sod for several years, occa-
sionally top-dressed with manure. It is to be planted to
field corn, without additional manure. Fertilizer is to be
applied in bands along the row, with a planter of recent
model. Soil tests in April are as follows:
pH — 5.2
Relative Rating Index
Lime absorption group: III. See Table 2.
Soil reaction preference group, for Corn: C. See Table 3.
Liming recommendation at 5.2 pH for III C : 1.2 tons of
agricultural limestone, per A (should be dolomitic be-
cause of "very low" magnesium test). See Table U-
Nitrogen availability class: II. See page —
Nitrogen requirement group, for Corn: C. See Table 5.
Nitrogen recommendation for II C : 30 to 40 lbs. X 0.6 =
18 to 24 lbs. of N per A. See Table 6.
Phosphorus availability class: IV. See page —
Phosphorus requirement group, for Corn: C. See Table 5.
Phosphorus recommendation for IV C: 80 to 100 lbs. X 0.6
= 48 to 60 lbs. of P 2 5 per A. See Table 6.
Potassium availability class: II. See page —
Potassium requirement group, for Corn: C. See Table 5.
Potassium recommendation for II C : 30 to 40 lbs. X 0.6
= 18 to 24 lbs. of K 2 per A.
Final recommendations: 1.5 tons agricultural limestone,
dolomitic broadcast; 500 lbs. of a U-l-U fertilizer per
acre, drilled in bands.
Case 2. Farmer Smith has a field of medium dark
brown, well-drained sandy loam soil, in potatoes and other
cultivated crops for several years, liberally fertilized. A
winter cover crop of rye has been plowed under. The field
is to be planted to potatoes (Green Mountain variety).
The fertilizer is to be drilled in bands. Soil tests last
October were as follows:
Relative Rating Index Test Designation
pH — 5.0
624 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
Lime absorption group : II. See Table 2.
Soil reaction preference group, for Potatoes: D. See
Liming recommendation at 5.0 pH for II D : 0.5 tons of
limestone per A. (interpolated). See Table U-
Nitrogen availability class: IV. See page —
Nitrogen requirement group, for Potatoes: B. See Table 5.
Nitrogen recommendation for I V B : 120 to 140 lbs. X 0.6
= 72 to 84 lbs. of N per A. See Table 6.
Phosphorus availability class: II. See page —
Phosphorus requirement group, for Potatoes: A. See
Phosphorus recommendation for II A: 80 to 100 lbs. X 0.6
= 48 to 60 lbs. of P 2 O s per A.
Potassium availability class: III. See page —
Potassium requirement group for Potatoes: A. See
Potassium recommendation for III A : 120 to 140 lbs. X 0.6
= 72 to 84 lbs. of K 2 per A. See Table 6.
Final recommendations: 1000 Z6s. of agricultural lime-
stone, broadcast; 1200 lbs. of 7-7-7 fertilizer, per A.,
drilled in bands.
The mechanics of such a scheme for using soil tests and other
information as a guide to recommend treatments is obviously some-
what cumbersome. However, it is to be used chiefly as a means of
systematizing one's reasoning in applying soil tests to practical prob-
lems. After a number of cases have thus been worked out in de-
tail, the soil diagnostician will arrive at the final recommendations
by subconscious recognition of all the various stages that must be
"thought through'' in order to arrive at a reasonably sound result.
THE soil testing methods developed at this Station during the past
10 years have been built around the employment of a half-normal
acetic acid solution, buffered at 4.8 pH with sodium acetate, for the
soil extraction. This has been designated, for convenience, as the
"Universal'' soil extracting solution. This scheme of testing, identi-
fied as the "Universal Soil Testing System", has been found to be
of great value in chemical soil diagnosis, not only in this State, but
in many sections of the United States as well as numerous other
The revised methods used in these tests are presented in detail.
Routine tests, of general application, are as follows: nitrate and am-
monia nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, alumin-
um, and manganese. Special tests provide indications relative to the
following constituents: Iron (both ferric and ferrous), sulfates, ni-
trites, sodium, chlorides, carbonates, boron, zinc, copper, mercury,
lead, and arsenic.
The adoptions of the tests to plant tissue testing, the examination
of drainage and irrigation waters and other dilute aqueos solutions,
and the testing of saline and alkali soils are also presented.
Considerations involved in the practical interpretation of the
tests, under various conditions, are discussed at length. A systematic
scheme for applying these interpretations in estimating fertilizer needs
Details of simple pH testing are also included. The significance
of soil reaction with respect to lime requirement, and the interpreta-
tion of quick chemical tests is given due attention.
The modifying effects of physical soil properties and other fac-
tors limiting crop growth are also stressed.
Methods such as these described in this bulletin are capable of
yielding valuable information concerning the chemical characteristics
of the soil and are extremely helpful when interpreted by a person who
is otherwise competent to offer sound advice in soil management prac-
626 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
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628 Connecticut Experiment Station Bulletin 450
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NITRATE NITROGEN COLOR CHART
Universal Soil Testing System
AMMONIA NITROGEN COLOR CHART
Universal Soil Testing System
PHOSPHORUS COLOR CHART
Universal Soil Testing System
POTASSIUM READING CHART
Universal Soil Testing System
CALCIUM READING CHART
Universal Soil Testing System
MAGNESIUM COLOR CHART
Universal Soil Testing System
(using Reagent A-2 (Titan Yellow)
ALUMINUM COLOR CHART
Universal Soil Testing System
MANGANESE COLOR CHART
Universal Soil Testing System