As a home gardener, you should check the pH of your soil because some plants need a certain pH level and won’t do well if the pH isn’t in a certain range. A pH test checks how acidic the soil is, which can affect how well plants can take in minerals.
Plant food and fertilizer won’t help if the pH level of the soil isn’t in the right range for the plant. This is because the plants can’t take the nutrients.
A soil pH test actually checks for the presence of hydrogen ions in the earth. If the pH is less than 7.0, it is acidic. If the pH is equal to or greater than 7.0, it is normal. It doesn’t always mean that acidic or alkaline soil is bad; it depends on the plants you’re growing.
But some plants need certain conditions. Most plants can grow in soil with a pH between 6 and 7.5. To grow berries, blueberries need soil that is acidic (4.5 to 5.5), while lavender grows best in soil that is alkaline (about 8.0).
Checking the pH of your soil should be on your list of things to do in the yard this fall. If you check the pH in the fall, you can fix it before growing season in the spring. Also, weeds that grew over the summer can tell you a lot about the pH of your soil, so fall is a great time to keep track of them.
For example, plantain, dandelions, and wild strawberries grow best in acidic soil. On the other hand, chickweed, Queen Anne’s lace, and chicory do better in alkaline soil.
If you test the soil’s pH in the fall, you have plenty of time to plant a nitrogen-fixing cover crop (if you live in a mild climate) or change your planting plans for next year based on the pH number.
If the soil is too acidic, you can make it less acidic by adding organic matter like peat moss. Adding lime to acidic soil can make it less acidic. Changes to the soil’s type and amount rely on how much the pH needs to be raised or lowered.
When you add an acidic solution to a basic or alkaline solution, they respond. Baking soda and vinegar (which is acidic) can be used to quickly find out what the pH level of the soil is.
This easy-to-do test will tell you whether the soil is mostly acidic or mostly alkaline. It’s best for people who have healthy gardens that could use a little more specific care.
To get a soil sample, use a hand trowel to dig four to six inches below the top of the soil. You can get a good sample of the soil in your garden bed by digging in a few different spots.
Take rocks, sticks, and other things that are in the way off the ground. Make sure to separate any big pieces.
Put about a cup of soil into a clean glass jar. Then, add enough distilled water to make mud out of the soil.
Add half a cup of vinegar and mix it in. In order to tell if your soil is alkaline, it should fizz, foam, or bubble.
Get a piece of soil, clean it up, put it in a clean container, and mix it with distilled water to make mud.
Mix in 1/2 cup of baking soda. If your soil foams, pops, or fizzes, it’s acidic.
One of the easiest ways to check pH is with a soil pH meter. It’s easy to use these soil pH probes: just push the pointy metal probe that looks like a stick into the ground or a cup of soil.
The depth is different based on who made the meter. Some probes give you data right away, while others might take a minute. Some probes check for things besides pH, like temperature, depth of soil, and sunshine.
These digital and analog tools don’t need test strips, a lot of time, or mixing of ingredients. For some meters, you may need to add water to the cup. Follow the directions on the package for the best results.
Your soil is probably in the neutral range if you test it with vinegar and baking soda and neither one has a big affect. There is no need for any more tests.
For the vinegar-baking soda test, you can mix soil from different parts of a small garden. If you have a big garden, though, it’s best to try several samples at once.
If you can’t get anything to grow in your garden beds or your lawn isn’t doing well, you should send a sample of your soil to a professional soil testing lab to get a full study. Based on the test results, the experts will make specific suggestions for how to improve the soil.