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Testing Soil pH Levels Without a Meter or Kit

Posted February 15th, 2019 by Lindsey Hyland in , ,

The other day, I was trying to measure the pH level of my pot where I planted a beautiful houseplant. 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 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. The techniques I learned were very fun and interesting.

Soil pH Level

Soil pH measures how acid and alkaline the soils in our gardens are. It’s what you need to know 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 are growing. The PH level is measured from 0-14. The neutral levels are 6-7. If you use a meter and your soil measures between 0-5, it means that it’s acidic. A pH level of 7-14 means your soil has more alkaline in it.

Why pH Testing is Important

The Soil pH matters because it affects how plants are nourished. Some plants prefer acidic soil, while others would not survive in it because they need a higher level of alkalinity. Some plants prefer a neutral pH level, which is 6-7.

Plants that Prefer Acidic Soil

Azaleas
Daffodils
Magnolia
Beech Trees
Sweet Potatoes

Plants that Prefer Alkaline Soil

Austrian Pine
Lilac
Lavender
Honeysuckle Vine
Mock Orange

There are areas where soil is generally acidic or has more alkaline, but you aren’t stuck with acidic or alkaline soil because you can change it.

Factors that Affect pH Level

Parent Material

How the soils are formed; some soils are formed from rocks, and those rocks already contain a certain pH level.

Precipitation

Rain or snow 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 can affect the acidity or alkalinity level of soil.

Fertilizers

A lot of fertilizers contain nutrients and minerals that affect the pH level of soil. Fortunately, you can choose the type of fertilizer you use to help control pH levels.

DIY Techniques for Measuring Soil pH

Vinegar and Baking Soda

This method is very easy. I like it a lot since the needed materials can be easily found in almost every kitchen.

Testing For Alkalinity

  1. Get at least a cup of soil from the garden.
  2. For the most accurate results, make sure to get only pure soil with no stones, pebbles, leaves, twigs, etc.
  3. Put the soil sample in a glass container and pour half a cup of water on it.
  4. Stir the mixture and wait for the sample to become muddy in consistency. If half a cup of water is not enough, slowly add more water as needed.
  5. Once the soil consistency is muddy, pour in half a cup of vinegar and wait.
  6. If the mixture fizzes or bubbles up, the soil has more alkaline. If it remains calm, then you’ve acidic soil.

Testing For Acidity

  1. Get at least a cup of soil from the garden.
  2. For the most accurate results, make sure to get only pure soil with no stones, pebbles, leaves, twigs, etc.
  3. Put your sample in a glass container. I use big beakers, but if you don’t have them readily available, a large glass bowl will work.
  4. Add half a cup of baking soda and stir, and then add half a cup of water to the 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, slowly add more water as needed. Just make sure that the texture won’t be too runny.
  5. Wait and see what happens to your mixture. If it fizzes, bubbles up, or foams up, your soil is acidic.

If both tests are done and nothing happened, meaning the vinegar and baking soda both remained calm, the soil has a neutral pH level.

Using Red Cabbage

Red cabbage has a component called anthocyanin and it is an excellent substance to use for checking soil pH levels. Some use this with vinegar and baking soda, but you can also get interesting results without them.

  1. Get at least half a cup of soil to test, making it has not stones, pebbles, leaves or other containments and set it aside.
  2. Slice the red cabbage into pieces.
  3. Boil red cabbage pieces in distilled water. The reason why you need to use distilled water is because 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.
  4. Strain the water to separate it from the cabbage leaves and place it in a container. It’s best to use clear containers for this because you need to assess the color after the soil sample has been placed in it.
  5. Place a tablespoon of the soil sample in the container with the purple water.

The water will begin to change color and depending on the color the pH level of the soil is:

Pink – Soil is Acidic

Blue-Green – Soil has More Alkaline

No Color Change – Neutral Soil pH Level

To get the most accurate result, get your soil sample 6-8 inches below the surface. This is best to do since it’s where the root of the plants will be.

When to Test Soil pH Levels

The bottom line is that you can do it anytime. I always check for the pH level before planting to make sure that it fits the needs of the plants that will be planted. Aside from that, I do it at least every month, especially for plants like the Black Tulip Magnolia. It’s an acidic plant, and I want to make sure that the soil stays acidic.

How to Balance Soil pH

You can change the pH level of soil as needed. If you need your soil to have a higher acidic level, you may add soil sulfur. 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 is the owner of Urban Organic Yield. You can visit her website at UrbanOrganicYield.com.

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