The other day, I was trying to measure the PH level of my pot where I planted beautiful houseplants.
While waiting for the meter to settle, I wondered if I could test the PH level of the soil in my garden without using any soil test kit at all.
Out of curiosity, I did my research and found a few ways for me to get the soil’s PH level without a meter as soon as I finished gardening that day. The techniques I learned were very fun and interesting, so I’d love to share them with you!
Table of Contents
- 1 DIY Ways to Measure Soil PH
- 2 When Should You Test Your Soil for its PH Level?
- 3 What is pH?
- 4 Things That Affect the PH Level of Your Soil
- 5 How to Balance Your Soil’s PH
DIY Ways to Measure Soil PH
Whether you were just curious to see what measuring your soil’s PH without a meter is like or you just don’t want to spend extra to get your soil’s PH level, the common ground here is that it’s very easy and not complicated to test your samples.
Here are some quick and even fun techniques to measure the PH level of your soil that I’d like to share. If you’ve kids around, this could even be a fun learning experience and experiment for them!
1. Using Vinegar and Baking Soda to Test Soil pH
This method is very easy. I like it a lot since the materials to be used are easily found in every household’s kitchen.
Steps for Testing for Alkalinity
- Get at least a cup of soil from your garden.
- Make sure that you only get pure soil. This means that you should remove any stones, pebbles, leaves, twigs, etc. for a more accurate result.
- Put your soil sample in a glass container and pour half a cup of water on it.
- Stir your mixture and wait for your sample to become muddy inconsistency. If half a cup of water is not enough, add water as needed.
- Once the soil’s consistency is muddy, pour in half a cup of vinegar and wait.
- If your mixture fizzes or bubbles up, your soil has more alkaline. If it remains calm, then you’ve acidic soil.
Steps to test for acidity
- Get at least a cup of soil that you want to test.
- Make sure that your sample doesn’t have any stones, leaves, or contaminants that could affect the test you’ll do.
- Put your sample in a glass container. I use big beakers, or if you don’t have them readily available, you may get a big glass bowl container.
- Add half a cup of baking soda and stir.
- Add half a cup of water to your sample. What’s important is that you make the soil’s consistency a bit mushy. If half a cup of water will not do it, you may add more water as needed. Just make sure that the texture won’t be too runny.
- Wait and see what happens to your mixture. If it fizzes, bubbles up, or foams up, your soil is acidic.
Now if you’ve done both tests and nothing happened, meaning both samples with vinegar and baking soda remained calm, it says that your soil has a neutral PH level.
2. Using red cabbage to test soil pH
The red cabbage that you eat has a component called anthocyanin. This is an excellent substance to use to check for your soil’s PH level. Some use this with vinegar and baking soda, but you can also get interesting results without them.
Steps to test soil pH levels using red cabbage:
- Get at least half a cup of soil that you want to get tested. Make sure that it’s pure and doesn’t have any contaminants like pebbles, glass, leaves, or twigs, and set it aside.
- Grab your red cabbage and slice it into pieces.
- Boil the pieces of the red cabbage with distilled water. The reason why you need to use distilled water is that it has the most neutral pH level.
- After boiling the red cabbage for 8-10 minutes, you’ll notice that the color of the water is already purplish or violet.
- Strain the water to separate it from the cabbage leaves and put it into a container. It’s best to use clear containers for this because you’ll have to assess the color it’ll have once you put your sample in it.
- Get a tablespoon of soil from the sample you got and put it in the container with the purple water.
You’ll then notice changes in the color of the water. Depending on the color, here is a guide you may use to check the PH level of your soil:
- Pink: The soil is acidic
- Blue-Green: The soil has more alkalinity.
- No color change: The soil’s PH level is neutral.
Now those are the techniques I found useful and fun to do. Science definitely does wonders when it comes to this type of situation.
Pro tip: To get the most accurate result, get your soil sample 6–8 inches below the surface. This is the best thing to do since it’s where the root of your plant will be.
When Should You Test Your Soil for its PH Level?
When you should be testing for your soil’ PH level depends on you. The bottom line is that you can do it anytime. I always check for the soil’s PH level before planting to make sure that it fits the needs of my plants.
Aside from that, I do it at least every month, especially for my plants like the Black Tulip Magnolia. It’s an acidic plant, and I want to make sure that the soil stays acidic.
What is pH?
Before I share a few techniques that I learned and tried out, allow me to explain what PH means when it comes to gardening. Soil PH is measured for us to know how much acid and alkaline the soils in our gardens have.
It’s what you need to know for you to have a better grasp of what type of minerals your plant will have once planted or potted.
What you’ve to keep in mind is that the perfect PH level depends on what type of plant you’ve.
The PH level is measured from 0–14. The neutral levels are 6-7. If you use a meter and your soil is measured between 0-5, it means that it’s acidic. A PH level of 7–14 means your soil has more alkaline in it.
Why is the PH level of soil important?
The pH of our soil matters because it has something to do with nourishing our plants. As I mentioned earlier, the PH level of your soil should depend on what plant you have.
Some plants prefer acidic soil, while others would not survive on it because they need a higher level of alkalinity. Some plants would also prefer a neutral PH level, which is 6-7.
Here are a few plants that you could get whether the soil in your area has more acid or alkaline.
- Beech Trees
- Sweet Potatoes
Alkaline Soil Plants:
- Austrian Pine
- Honeysuckle Vine
- Mock Orange
There are areas in the state where the soil is generally acidic or has more alkaline. Now there is no need to worry if you feel like you are going to be stuck with acidic or alkaline soil plants because of your location.
The good thing about getting your soil PH level is that you get to know what you can do to change it.
Things That Affect the PH Level of Your Soil
Before moving on to how you can affect the soil’s PH level, it would be nice to know why it’s acidic or full of alkaline in the first place.
There are a few reasons why the PH level of your soils are the way they are. The following are the factors that make your soil acidic or have more alkaline:
- Parent Material: How the soils are formed. Some soils are formed from rocks, and those rocks are already made up with a certain level of PH.
- Precipitation: the rain and its components can affect soils that are exposed to it. If the rain is acidic, it could affect the soil’s acidity level.
- Flooding: This can wash out the soil’s minerals and components that could affect your soil’s acidity or alkalinity level.
- Fertilizers: A lot of fertilizers contain nutrients and minerals that affect the PH level of your soil. This means that you can choose what type of fertilizer you may use to control your soil’s PH level.
How to Balance Your Soil’s PH
As I mentioned, you can change the PH level of your soil as needed. If you need your soil to have a higher acid level, you may use readily available soil sulfur. I use Arizona’s Best. I like it because I can also use it as a soil conditioner.
If your plants need less acid, you’ll be surprised to know that acidic fruit juices will help your soil be less acidic. When I say acidic juices, I’m talking about lime, lemon, and oranges.
It does seem like it should increase the soil’s acidity level, but it doesn’t! Science works that way.
Lindsey Hyland grew up in Arizona where she studied at the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center. She continued her gardening education by working on organic farms in both rural and urban settings. She started UrbanOrganicYield.com to share gardening tips and tactics. She’s happy to talk about succulents and houseplants or vegetables and herbs – or just about anything in a backyard garden or hydroponics garden.