How to Measure and Adjust pH Levels in Soil – With & Without a Kit


Gardening is one of the most relaxing hobbies that almost anyone can enjoy. Planting seeds and watching your plants grow is a thing of beauty. But what happens when your dreams of having a wonderful garden are shattered because the pH levels in your soil are wrong? One of the most overlooked causes of plant death is improper soil pH levels.

Most plants enjoy soil with a pH range from six to seven, but too low or too high off that target range can cause your plants to die. To check your soil’s pH level, purchase or make a pH tester. These kits can be purchased from any hardware store or from an online retailer.

Read on to learn exactly how to measure and adjust your soil’s pH levels.

PH scale
Graphic by Dzmitryshashko

How to Measure pH Levels in Soil

As stated above, the best way to check the pH levels in your soil is to purchase a kit that includes everything that you need to check the soil. You can purchase these kits from any hardware store or an online retailer.

The kits usually start from around $9 and increase in price from there depending on what kind of kit you want and the items included. If you purchase a kit that comes with test strips, there are a few steps that need to be done so that you can get enough soil for a sample:

  • Remove your soil samples.
  • Mix soil samples with distilled water.
  • Place the test strip into the wet soil sample.
  • View results and determine your soil’s pH level.

Soil Sample

To test the pH of your garden soil, remove a small sample of soil. It does not have to be a large amount, but enough to fill up a small hand shovel.

Pour your gathered soil sample into a bowl and set it aside for testing.

Add Distilled Water

Room temperature distilled water must be used for the test to accurately determine what the pH level is for the soil. Do not use tap water or any other kind of water that is not distilled as that might throw off the reading.

When pouring the distilled water into the soil, make sure that you use just enough distilled water to create a mixture as thick as a milkshake.

Make sure that you mix the soil and water until the water is fully dissolved into the soil.

Place the Test Strip

Next, remove the test strip from the kit that you purchased and place it into the soil and water mixture. Make sure that all of the areas on the tester that have color on them have been fully submerged into the mixture.

Leave the test strip in the mixture for as long as the kit instructs, at which point you can remove the stick and rinse slightly with distilled water to clean the dirt off of the tip.

View Results

Now that you have completed the test, the test strip should indicate a specific color. You can match that color up to the color legend provided with the testing kit.

Jalape_o_Pepper_Lines (4)
Jalape_o_Pepper_Lines (4)

Based upon the reading of the stick, you will know the pH level of your soil and can adjust the levels as needed depending on the plants you plan to grow.

Photo of soil testing measuring soil levels

Can you Test Soil pH Levels Without a Kit?

For those of you that do not want to purchase a test kit, there is a way to generally test the pH in your soil from ingredients that you most likely have at home. These simple ingredients are:

  • Vinegar and baking soda
  • Red cabbage

Vinegar and Baking soda

Collect a sample of your soil. Again, it does not have to be a large amount—roughly two spoonfuls will do for this test. Place the soil sample into a bowl or other type of container and add a half cup of vinegar to the soil. If the mixture begins to fizz, that means that the pH in your soil has a range of between seven and eight, which makes it more alkaline.

If it does not fizz, you will need to add distilled water to the mixture—not a lot, just enough to make it into the mud. Add a half cup of baking soda to the mixture, and if it fizzes, your soil has a pH level somewhere between five and six, which makes it more acidic.

If the soil does not fizz at all, regardless of what you add, relax! That means that the pH level in your soil is balanced right in the middle.

Red Cabbage

This method takes a little more work but is way more interesting.

  • Start the process by pouring two cups of distilled water into a pot, then add one cup of red cabbage to the water.
  • Turn on the burner and allow the water and cabbage to simmer for roughly five minutes, then remove the pot from the heat. Let the cabbage and water sit for 30 minutes to cool.
  • Once the mixture has cooled, strain the water from the cabbage into some type of container to hold the liquid.
  • Put a sample of your soil into another container that can hold liquid.
  • Pour a couple of inches of the cabbage water into the soil and mix it.
  • Wait for 30 minutes and then check to see if there is any type of color change to the liquid.

If the liquid turns pink, that means that your soil is acidic. If the liquid turns blue or green, your soil is alkaline.

What is the Ideal pH Level for Garden Soil?

In all truth, the precise ideal pH level for your soil can completely depend on the type of plant that you want to grow. However, as a rule of thumb, a pH level anywhere between six and seven is a good pH range for your garden soil.

Some plants prefer soil that is more acidic or more alkaline in order to receive the proper nutrients they need to grow. However, you can consider a pH level between six and seven to generally be a good range.

How to Adjust pH Levels in Soil

Before you start exploring how to change the pH levels of the soil, inspect the garden to determine the general makeup of the dirt. If your soil is dry, clumpy, and somewhat hard, it will be harder to adjust the pH level than if your soil is well-drained and loose.

Your method for adjusting your soil’s pH level will depend on whether you are starting with soil that is too acidic or soil that is too basic (alkaline). Each step requires different materials to get the soil levels adjusted.

Increase Soil pH Levels

The best way to increase the pH levels in your soil is to utilize a base material. The base material can be either:

  • Lime-based material
  • Wood ashes

If you decide to utilize a lime base, you can purchase most of the different forms from a local hardware store or online. Amazon.com sells garden lime calcium carbonate starting under $20 for a five-pound bag.

You can also use wood ashes. Although wood ashes are not as effective as lime in adjusting the pH levels, they do add micronutrients to the soil, which also help your plants grow. Wood ash is also easier to spread along with the soil than that of any lime material.

Application

Whichever method you choose to adjust your soil’s pH, make sure that you thoroughly cover the soil.

Once the soil is covered with the mixture, till the ground to make sure that the mixture gets as deep into the soil as possible.

Make sure that you give the mixture enough time to adjust the soil before planting.

Decrease Soil pH Levels

Organic materials like compost or manure, and sulfur are the best materials to use to decrease the pH in your soil. You can use your own compost, or you can purchase manure at your local hardware store or through an online retailer.

Whichever material you pick, make sure that it is evenly spread out throughout the soil and then till the area as you would do to raise the pH level.

Again, the adjustment of the pH will take some time so if you do not have established plants in the garden, give it some time to adjust before planting.

Here are Some of my Favorite Gardening Products and Tools

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful for growing some new plants in your home or garden. Here are some products I like that I hope you’ll also find helpful. These are affiliate links, and I am compensated for referring traffic. But in all honesty, these are the exact product that I use or recommend to everyone.

Soil: For high-quality soil, I really like Fox Farm Ocean Forest. I do all my growing in containers and this soil has worked great for me. I like how they use nutrient-rich contents like earthworm castings, bat guano, and composted crab and fish.

Fertilizer: Currently I am using a seaweed-based organic fertilizer call Neptunes Harvest. This is a great milder fertilizer option if you want to use something organic. If you want a more powerful fertilizer, I recommend Fox Farm Liquid Nutrient Trio, lots of people have had great growing success with this product.

Pruning Shears: Pruning shears are one of the most useful gardening tools to have because it’s important to prune your plants to keep them healthy. The pruning shears I recommend are the Gonicc 8’’ pruning shears. I like them because they are built sturdy and work both on bigger and smaller plants, so you don’t need to have multiple pruning shears.

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Supriya

Hi! I'm Supriya. I'm a home cook, bulldog mom, spicy food lover, and founder of The Spicy Trio. I have been a home cook for about 15 years and have been growing plants for the past six years.

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