Even experts can't tell how good soil is just by looking at it.

At Pacific Soil Analysis in Richmond, soil specialists test samples for government, farmers, landscapers, and homeowners.

"Usually it's two extremes," explains soil tester Bill Herman, whose $50 to $60 test will tell you what's there and what you need.

"Either the soil is so incredibly infertile and people are still wondering why plants don't grow, or it's incredibly excessively fertile cause they've thrown everything they possibly could at it," he says.

There are a few keys to productive soil, experts say.

"People have this idea that if they have a loam soil that that's good. Nonsense. Loam makes no reference whatsoever to fertility, productivity," Bill says.

Having soil with the proper pH is one of the biggest secrets to having a lush green lawn, according to Peter Sawchuck of Consumer Reports.

"Getting the proper pH for the soil in your lawn is really more important than putting seed on. Because when you have the proper pH, your fertilizer works better, it lasts longer, and you get much healthier grass," says Peter.

You may be tempted to use a home soil test kit, designed to measure pH level. A pH scale measures the acidity of the soil on a scale that runs from 0 to 14, with seven being neutral. Lawns require a pH of approximately 6.5 to seven, says Peter.

To see how the home kits measure up, testers took dozens of samples at seven different locations. They also sent soil samples to two outside laboratories. The results were compared and the home kits came up short.

"Unfortunately they weren't all that accurate. They were inconsistent. So they're not the best choice for determining your soil pH," says Peter.

Instead, Consumer Reports recommends you have testing done by a private lab, or a lawn-care service.

"The most common finding in coastal B.C. is that soils are acidic," says Bill.

"The correction for that is to use lime. The best lime to use is the pelletized version, which is easier to handle and it also lasts longer," Peter adds.

Check out the following sites to see where you can get your soil tested: