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How to Test Soil pH

Ashwini Kulkarni Sule Sep 23, 2018
Soil testing is of immense importance, since all the plants show different pH preferences. The pH of the soil directly affects the quality of nutrients that the soil offers. You can do the soil testing of your garden soil with the help of test kits.
Soil pH can influence many factors such as availability of nutrients in the soil, soil life and the susceptibility of plants to various diseases. 'Soil life' is the term used to define various micro-organisms that are responsible for decomposing complex compounds into simpler organic forms, thereby enriching the soil.
Some micro-organisms thrive in alkaline soil, while others prefer acidic soil. Soil testing helps you to determine the pH of the soil so that you can make amendments to improve it.

Methods for Testing Soil pH

Soil testing can be done by taking samples of soil from different areas of your garden and mixing them together. This helps to determine the average pH level of the soil. While taking samples, make sure you don't take them immediately after fertilizers are applied or when the soil is wet.

Soil pH Testing With Test Kits

You can get the pH test of your soil done from any garden center or you can even do it yourself. For that, you'll need to buy a pH test kit which is easily available at the nurseries or hardware stores. The testing components that come with these kits include a test tube, testing solution and a color chart.
For performing a soil test, put the sample of your soil in the test tube and add a few drops of the test solution. Next, shake it well and keep it aside for an hour or so for settling. The nature of your soil makes the solution in the tube to change its color.
The new color indicates the level of pH of the soil. Compare the color of the sample in the test tube with the colors on the color chart. The one that matches with the color of your sample gives you the pH of your soil. Some kits also come with booklets that help you to interpret your result.

Using Other Methods

If you cannot arrange for the testing kit, you can even test the pH of your soil at home using some commonly available ingredients and tools.

Method 1

Scoop some soil from your garden and put it in a container, then add half a cup of vinegar in it. If the mixture fizzes, it means your soil is alkaline. If it shows no reaction, add half a cup of water in freshly scooped soil. Then mix some baking soda in it and see if the mixture fizzes. If it does, it means your soil is highly acidic.

Method 2

Dig a hole 2 - 3 inches deep in the ground and fill it with distilled water to form a muddy pool. Get the test probe and wipe it with tissue paper to make sure it is clean. Insert the probe in the hole and take the reading after 1 minute.
The test probe may not cover the entire pH range of 1 - 14, however, it indicates if it is below 7 or above 7. If the scale is below 7, the soil is acidic, otherwise it is alkaline. Exact 7 scale indicates neutral soil.

Method 3

Collect one scoop of soil from different areas in your garden and mix it well. Spread it on a newspaper and allow it to dry. Then take half a cup of soil in a jar and fill the jar with distilled water.
Allow the mixture to set until the soil collects at the bottom of the jar. Take litmus paper and insert it in water. If it turns red, the soil is acidic; blue litmus paper indicates that the soil is alkaline.
The degree of acidity or alkalinity can be measured only with pH meter or the color chart that comes with the test kit. Most plants grow well within a pH range of 6.5 to 7.0, which is mostly neutral. Exact pH level helps you to amend the soil.
If the soil is acidic, amend it by adding wood ash or lime, while alkaline soil can be amended by adding sulfur or pine needles. You need to wait for a few weeks/months to see how the amendment works, as it takes effect slowly.
Late fall or early spring is considered as a good time to test the pH of your soil, as you get enough time to make corrections for the plantation season.
Knowledge of soil pH can indeed improve the growth of your plants. Hence, use any of the methods of soil testing described above to make your garden soil most conducive to the plants.