tool for testing soil ph

The spring has come and you are excited to get growing! Eager to start, you buy some seeds or plants from your local nursery and start reading up on how to care for them. Somewhere in your research, you learn that your plants are going to be happiest at a pH between 6 and 7. So, what does that mean? Today we are going to talk about this seemingly mysterious term: “pH”.

What is pH?

pH stands for the acidity of an aqueous solution (wet soil in our case). The term actually comes from the french phrase “pouvoir hydrogene”. This translates directly to “hydrogen power” in English. Complicated math aside, it basically works out that the more hydrogen (in the form of hydronium ions) in a solution, the lower the pH.

The pH Scale

So what do the numbers related to pH mean? pH is a scale, it ranges from values as low as 0 to as high as 14, and everything in between. Values on the low side are called acidic, and values on the high side are called basic. The value of 7 (in the middle of the scale) is called neutral and is neither acidic or basic. Here are some common examples to give you an idea of what the scale looks like in real life.

1.00= Battery Acid
2.00= Lemon Juice
2.20= Vinegar
3.00= Raw Apple Juice
4.00= Beer/Wine
4.50= Tomatoes
6.60= Milk
7.00= Pure Water
7.40= Blood
8.30= Baking soda
11.0= Ammonia
12.4= Lime
13.0= Lye

Keep in mind that anything near either end of the scale should be handled with care and may cause burns or discomfort.

Testing Your Soil

Now that you know what pH is, let’s get to testing your soil and finding your pH. In order to do this you will need:

1) Soil
2) Water (preferably distilled)
3) A soil pH meter (available online for around 15$)
4) A container

First, take a sample of soil from the area you will be planting. A good handful will do, think about a cup or so. To do this, dig down a couple of inches to ignore the topsoil, and take a spade or handful of soil from beneath this layer. Put the soil in your container and mix in just enough water to make the soil muddy. You don’t want it to be able to flow like a liquid, just muddy enough to be moist all throughout. Next, turn on your pH meter and insert it an inch or two into the wet soil. Allow the numbers on the readout to stabilize (they will bounce around a bit at first) and then record the number.

This is your soil’s pH! If it is not what you need for your plant, do not fear. There are many ways to amend a soil’s pH. Doing a little research online can help you decide which method is best for your style of gardening, and give you instructions on how to proceed. After you have amended the soil, repeat the testing process to see if your soil has improved.

If you are also having trouble with your soil’s drainage, try this article on amending clay soil.

Thanks for reading! Any questions, leave a comment below!

Top photo via Chiot’s Run