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How to pH Soil Test at Home (No Kit Needed!)

It’s no secret that soil is the most important part of the garden. Not only does it either create healthy plants or lead to their demise, but it is also full of information that can help us grow a better garden. Part of the basics of building great soil is knowing whether you have alkaline or acidic soil, and treating accordingly. Learn how to pH soil test at home to give yourself a general idea of the pH of your soil with just a few basic supplies.

Test your soil pH at home with ingredients from your kitchen

When you first move into a new home or are curious about why your plants aren’t doing as well as they should, the first thing you can check is the soil. Basic home tests can give you an indicator of what you’re working with and if there is any need for improvement.

Some plants take root effortlessly while others need specific conditions. Take a dive into why lies beneath the feet to see if your soil falls too far towards alkaline or acidic.

This post will cover…

using compost for soil regeneration

What is Soil pH?

In chemistry, pH (which stands for potential hydrogen), measures how acidic or alkaline something is. In this case, we’re looking at soil. It is based on a scale from 0 to 14, with a pH of 7 considered neutral.

Values of 0 to 7 indicate your soil is acidic, while 7 to 14 indicates alkaline. It’s pretty rare to see super high or low values in soil. Normally, soil pH is between 4.5 to 9.

Why Soil pH is Important

To allow nutrients to be accessed by a plant, they need to be able to dissolve in water. Each of these nutrient ions has a preferred pH that they like in order for the plant to use them. If the soil is outside of the pH range, then your plants won’t be able to access the nutrients.

With a few exceptions, most plants will do best in neutral soil. Anything ranging from 6.5 to 7 would be considered neutral.

However, some plants thrive in acidity. Blueberry plants and rhododendrons prefer a pH from 4.5 to 5.5. Meanwhile, asparagus and sweet peas like a more alkaline soil slightly above 7. Knowing the acidity of your soil ensures you have the right plants for the area.

If you do notice that your soil is too acidic, soil amendments will help bring your soil into more neutral territory. But first, you’ll need to know what you’re starting with.

That’s why learning how to test soil pH is so crucial for the vitality of your garden.

how to pH soil test at home

How to do a Soil pH Test At Home

Learning how to test soil pH at home is easy and effective. You likely have many of these supplies at home already! Vinegar is acidic and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) is alkaline.

When mixed together, they fizz. With two samples of soil from the same place in your garden, adding these ingredients will help to determine your soil’s pH type.

Materials:

  • Distilled Water – it is important to use distilled because it has a neutral pH. You could try and use regular water, but it could affect the outcome of the test.
  • White vinegar (an acid)
  • Baking soda (a base or alkaline)
  • A bowl and spoon

Let’s Test Soil!

Scoop up a small amount of soil from an area in your garden. Add 1 tbsp of soil to a small bowl and mix it with 1 tbsp of distilled water. You’ll want to add enough to make a loose mud.

DIY soil pH test
DIY soil pH test: adding water to the soil

Pour a little bit of vinegar into the bowl. If it fizzes up, the soil is alkaline. As you can see, there was no fizz in my soil pH test, which would suggest that my soil is acidic.

DIY soil pH test: adding vinegar

To double-check the results, grab another tablespoon of soil from the same spot in your garden. Then, wet it with the water and mix again. Next, sprinkle 1 tbsp of baking soda in it and mix. If it fizzes, the soil is acidic.

DIY soil pH test: adding baking soda

On the second soil pH test, my soil did fizz up, which means the soil is acidic. If it does not fizz for either test, you have neutral soil.

You certainly do not have to perform both tests to determine the pH of your soil. Just one will suffice, but you can try both to confirm the results if you like. To be honest, I already knew that my soil is acidic, but in the name of garden science, I had to confirm!

Now that you are armed with this basic knowledge about your soil, you can help your plants thrive. Plus, you can also use it to do cool things like change the colour of your hydrangea! Isn’t gardening science fun?

hydrangea and soil

Frequently Asked Questions About Soil pH Tests

What Are the Signs of Acidic Soil?

Acidic soil occurs when the pH of soil falls below 7. Symptoms of acidic soil can include stunted growth, brown spots or discolouration, withered leaves, blossom end rot, leaf necrosis (when the tissue of the leaf begins to decompose), and brown leaf tips.

Is Clay Soil Acidic or Alkaline?

Clay soil tends to naturally be alkaline, ranging from 8 to 10 on the pH scale. Combined with poor drainage, this makes it difficult for many plants to grow. After performing a soil pH test to confirm your soil conditions, add soil amendments to add more acidity and drainage to clay soil.

What Happens When pH is Too High for Plants?

When the pH of soil is high, it’s too alkaline. High pH means that certain nutrients become less soluble and therefore less available to plants. This results in nutrient deficiencies such as calcium, iron, copper, and phosphorus.

Alkaline soil can have similar symptoms to acidic soil such as brown tips, wilted leaves, leaf necrosis, blossom end rot, and irregular colouring or spotting.

Do Soil Ph Meters Work?

Soil pH meters help test for soil and moisture levels. They’re rather simple and provide relatively accurate measurements. However, an at-home test will work just as well and won’t cost you a thing. For highly accurate results, it’s best to have your soil tested professionally at a lab.

soil pH test

Good luck with your at-home test! Leave any of your pH-related gardening questions below.

Do a DIY Soil pH Test at Home

This simple soil pH test only requires a few simple supplies – most of which you probably have right at home! In minutes, you can find out whether your soil is alkaline or acidic.

Equipment

  • a bowl and spoon

Supplies

Instructions

  • Scoop up a small amount of soil from your garden.
  • Then, add enough distilled water to the soil to make it into a loose mud.
  • Pour a bit of vinegar into the bowl. If it fizzes, your soil is alkaline!

Double-check your results by emptying the bowl and starting once more.

  • Again, scoop some soil into the bowl.
  • Add the water to create a loose mud.
  • Sprinkle baking soda into the mixture. If it fizzes, your soil is acidic!

Comments

  1. So if our soil is basic or acidic, how do we help balance it so plants can grow well?

    Reply
  2. Both tests fizzed mildly, neither had a strong response. I’d say the vinegar was the stronger of the two. I planted blue hydrangea and I’d like them to stay blue (or purple). I don’t want pink. Will my soil be ok? Do I need to take action?

    Reply
    • Hi Sarah, can you try the test again? It shouldn’t fizz in both, it reacts to one or the other (or neither). If your soil is neutral they should stay blue. If you have alkaline soil and they start to turn pink, then you can start amending the soil in the following season. It won’t happen immediately, so you have time to figure it out.

      Reply
  3. I have a question. I use a ph balancer when I water my plants because I know my water is acidic. If I need to add water to the soil, should I adjust the ph of the water first and then add it to the soil?

    Reply
    • Hi Ashley, that could work, but I tend to go more to the end of working with the soil that you have. I choose the plants that thrive in the soil I have naturally and so I have less work and effort to grow a healthy garden.

      Reply

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