A technique to determine which nutrients limit bacterial growth in soil was developed. The method was based on measuring the thymidine incorporation rate of bacteria after the addition of C, N, and P in different combinations to soil samples. First, the thymidine incorporation method was tested in two different soils: an agricultural soil and a forest humus soil. Carbon (as glucose) was found to be the limiting substance for bacterial growth in both of these soils. The effect of adding different amounts of nutrients was studied, and tests were performed to determine whether the additions affected the soil pH and subsequent bacterial activity. The incubation time required to detect bacterial growth after adding substrate to the soil was also evaluated. Second, the method was used in experiments in which three different size fractions of straw (1 to 2, 0.25 to 1, and <0.25 mm) were mixed into the agricultural soil in order to induce N limitation for bacterial growth. When the straw fraction was small enough (<0.25 mm), N became the limiting nutrient for bacterial growth after about 3 weeks. After the addition of the larger straw fractions (1 to 2 and 0.25 to 1 mm), the soil bacteria were C limited throughout the incubation period (10 weeks), although an increase in the thymidine incorporation rate after the addition of C and N together compared with adding them separately was seen in the sample containing the size fraction from 0.25 to 1 mm. Third, soils from high-pH, limestone-rich areas were examined. P limitation was observed in one of these soils, while tendencies toward P limitation were seen in some of the other soils.