How to Test Soil pH - Backyard Boss
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How to Test Soil pH

The pH of your soil is crucial if you want to have a healthy garden. It’s so important because, without the right pH in your soil, your plants won’t be able to absorb nutrients. So it doesn’t matter how much or what type of fertilizer you use in your garden. If the pH is wrong, your plants won’t be able to take up nutrients, and you’ll be left with a poor garden. 

Luckily, the pH of your soil is easy to test and easy to correct. You can do it with some household items if you’re in a pinch. Or you can simply get a home pH tester and read the pH level off the screen. In this tutorial, I want to show you how you can easily test your soil using a few basic household items!

Materials Needed

  • Soil 
  • Non-reactive bowl (glass/stainless steel)
  • Vinegar 
  • Distilled water
  • Baking Soda 
  • Home pH Tester 
  • Test Strips

Step One: Dig Some Holes 

Child digging a hole
Image credits: Woodleywonderworks via Creative Commons

To begin, you need some soil. To get the most accurate reading, it’s best to scrape off the top layer of soil so that vegetation and assorted detritus won’t skew your readings. It’s also a good idea to get varied samples from a few different areas of your garden for the most accurate results.

If your garden is divided into separate beds, it would be best to test each bed individually.

Step Two: Separate Each Sample

Various different soil samples
Image credits: OregonDOT via Creative Commons

Now that you’ve collected your samples, you can divide each sample into two. Add these samples to bowls made out of a non-reactive material such as glass, stainless steel, or ceramic.

Remember to label your samples if necessary.

Step Three: Add Vinegar

Row of vinegar in bottles
Image credits: JeepersMedia via Creative Commons

Now comes the fun part. Add half a cup or so of vinegar to one soil sample. If the mixture fizzes, you have alkaline soil. If there is no reaction, move on to the next step.

It is why each sample needs to be divided into two.

Step Four: Add Baking Soda 

Baking powder
Image credits: Addilyn Ragsdill via Unsplash

Add enough distilled water to your soil sample to moisten it. Add half a cup of baking soda to the sample. If the mixture fizzes, you have acidic soil.

If your samples don’t react to either test, your soil has a neutral pH.

Limitations Of The Home Test 

Soil probe
Image credits: Omaniblog via Creative Commons

You may have noticed that in the tests above you’re not getting a specific pH reading for your soil. The only information you’ll get is whether your soil is alkaline or acidic. 

This information can be very useful for the casual gardener to understand their soil better and to know what amendments are necessary. 

If you need a specific pH reading, however, you will have to test your soil more thoroughly. A soil pH tester is probably one of the best garden soil testers. 

A soil pH tester is simply a probe attached to an LCD screen. Once you insert the probe into the soil, the screen will give you a more accurate readout regarding the specific pH of your soil. 

Prime pH

With all this talk of pH levels, you might be wondering what the best pH level to have in your soil is.

A pH level of 7 means your soil is neutral. Most plants prefer slightly acidic soil. With your soil in the 5.5 to 7 pH range, microbial activity is at its highest, and plants have the most access to nutrients.

If your pH is too high, many nutrients become less available to your plants. If your pH is too low, it can be toxic to your plants. Soils that are too acidic can be amended with finely ground limestone, and soils that are too alkaline can be amended with ground sulfur.

Last Word

With the simple test above, you can quickly and easily gather important information about your soil. If you suspect that the pH level of your soil is not optimal, it would be a good idea to start with a simple home test to get a better idea of the pH of your soil.

If the results of your test confirm your suspicions, you could take it a step further by getting a more accurate reading with a soil pH tester. It will give you the information you need to amend your soil correctly so that you can have a bumper garden this year.