The pH of your soil makes a significant difference regardless of what you are growing. Plants depend on having the right acid/base mix and it’s essential to know and treat your soil to help plants thrive. If you’re not familiar with soil pH testing, we’ll walk you through the process and help you understand the basics and how to get started.
Soil and pH Levels
Soil is the material that’s used to grow plants. It’s composed of a number of materials such as organic, inorganic, and microorganisms. Inorganic parts of the soil are minerals that come from rocks that have broken down over time. These minerals are important to the health of the soil and they’re used by plants in order to help them grow. The organic sections are the broken down remains of other plants, animals, or any living thing. Finally, microorganisms are what work to break down dead material into soil. You likely can’t see them but they also play an essential role.
The pH is a measure of acidity or basicness of any material. When you test the pH, you’re actually testing the amount of hydrogen atoms that carry a positive charge. The higher the concentration of hydrogen, the more acidic the substance. Lower concentrations indicate that the substance is more basic. The pH scale ranges from 0-14. Any pH that is between 0-7 is acidic while 7-14 is basic. A substance with a pH of 7 is considered completely neutral.
When it comes to the soil, this is a substance that can be tested for its pH. The acidity or basicness of the soil ensures the appropriate plant growth and crop yield as it indicates whether nutrients are freely available for the plants to use. You can test the pH to determine which plants will grow best in that soil. If you want to change the pH, you can use supplements such as fertilizers to do this. Natural soil typically has a pH between 4-8 but it can be treated to adjust as needed.
How to Test pH
The two primary methods to test pH are slurry and direct soil testing.
- Slurry Method
Gather some soil from a test area and add equal parts of soil and distilled water. Stir the sample to mix and let it sit for 15 minutes. Stir again and then take the measurement.
- Direct Soil Testing
Use a ruler or auger to put a hole directly into the soil you want to test. Add distilled water to the hole so that it is damp but not saturated. Insert the testing instrument into the hole and keep in place until the reading has stabilized.
Soil Testing Options
There are a few primary options that you have to test your soil. While there is not one superior method, you may prefer some of these options over others.
Soil pH Test Strips
Most people are familiar with the test strips. They’ve been saturated in pH sensitive dies. When exposed to damp substances, the color will change to the substance pH. They don’t provide the most accurate pH but they’re inexpensive and easy to use.
Soil pH Chemical Kits
These are similar to test strips and are easy to use. However, they’re also subjective and the test kits typically only have a limited number of tests. This is an option when you’re getting started but may not be the easiest choice.
Digital Soil Testers
These are digital testing instruments that use a pH electrode. The pH sensor allows for good accuracy and will display the result of a slurry or direct test and show it on the LCD screen for easy reading. This method is easy and can be used multiple times so you won’t have to worry about carrying test strips or other materials around.
Portable pH Meters
These tools are the next step up from other testers. They are industrial pH probes that offer laboratory accuracy in field testing. While they’re slightly larger, they have many functions such as data logging that may be helpful. If you need to report pH values and frequently test soil, then this meter is going to be a great choice.
Testing the Soil
Soil may be complex but testing the pH of your soil can provide you with valuable information. If you want to know more about your soil and what type of fertilizer to use, having a base reading can be helpful. Use this information to understand your options.