Have you removed the weeds, tilled the gardens, watered the lawn, tried every product on the market, and you still can’t get your plants to grow properly? There is a chance that nothing’s happening because your soil pH is out of whack. For plants to grow properly, they need the right conditions, and you might have every other element in place apart from the soil’s pH level.
If you are not a professional gardener, you’ll assume that fertilizer, watering, and regular cutting are all plants and lawns need to thrive, but this is far from the truth. Healthy soil is the most important aspect of growth for all greenery; and one of the missing components is often pH levels. Once upon a time, farmers tasted their soil to check whether it was sweet or sour. Today, a mouth full of soil isn’t required to check its pH level, because there’s plenty of equipment that can do that for you.
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5 Best Soil pH Test Kits
Here are five of the best soil pH test kits to measure the pH level of your soil. You can purchase them online or from most garden centers.
1. SONKIR Soil pH Test Meter – Top Pick
This test meter is a three in one kit, it will test the soils pH level, its soil moisture, and the sunlight level of your plants. Due to its double needle detection technology function, this test meter is extremely accurate. No batteries are required, simply insert and read. This lightweight product is easily carried around too, so you can use it to test the pH level of the soil for your indoor plants as well as the soil in your backyard.
The inbuilt scientific data monitoring system will give you insight into every detail of your plants, allowing you to do whatever is necessary to keep them healthy. It’s important to mention that the test meter doesn’t read dry soil though, so if your soil is dry, water it before testing.
Size: 2.25 Ounces
Style: Soil tester
- User friendly, anyone can use it
- Very accurate, reads instantly
- Will let you know the health status of your plants
- The moisture reader is a bit too sensitive
2. Garden Tutor Soil pH Test Strips
These test strips provide you with no hassle, and give quick and accurate results. If you don’t know enough about pH levels, the kit comes with a 16 page handbook telling you everything you need to know about soil pH testing. In case you had any reserves about pH test strips, it’s the universal type that doesn’t only read soil, but Garden Tutor pH test strips have been specifically designed for soil testing, so with every test, you are guaranteed accurate results every time.
The kit provides enough strips for 100 tests, which means you won’t run out for a while. The testing process is really simple, once you’ve prepped the soil, dip the strip into it and see what color it becomes. The kit comes with a color chart, so then you measure it, do a comparison test, and you’ve got your soil’s pH level.
Size: 100 strips
Style: Ready to use
- Comes with a 16 page guidebook so you can’t go wrong
- Very easy to use, simply dip and measure
- Kit contains 100 strips so you won’t run out
- Sometimes it can be difficult to match the test colors
3. Atree Soil pH Meter
The atree soil pH meter is the ideal kit for measuring your soils pH level, sunlight intensity, and moisture. This testing kit will let you know when to adjust the lighting or pH, and when to water your plants and flowers. It’s extremely accurate and very simple to use, just poke the probes into the soil, give it a couple of seconds, and you’ve got your reading. The kit isn’t battery or electricity operated making it very easy to use.
If you want a rolling green lawn covered in happy and healthy plants, this soil pH meter is exactly what you need. You can adjust the kit for indoor or outdoor use, so if you’ve got any plants in the home, you can ensure they’re happy and healthy too.
- The three way meter measures pH, light, and water
- Simple to use, so perfect for newbie gardeners
- Users will never need to worry about over or under watering their plants again
- Can be difficult to read, depending on the soil type
4. Rapitest Soil Test Kit
Not only does this kit test the pH level of your soil, it also tests the level of potash, phosphorus, and nitrogen in the soil. These are very important nutrients for the health of your soil and the growth of your plants and lawn. The kit is user friendly, and comes with enough applications to conduct 40 tests. If you are not sure what the soil pH level is for any of your plants, the kit comes with a list of the pH levels for more than 450 plants.
The testing process is quick and easy, so for those who are new to soil testing, you will greatly appreciate how simple it is to use. Everything including the capsules, and comparator films are color coded. You just need to mix some soil with a bit of water, add some of the solution to the color comparator, add some powder, give it a shake, and wait for the color to change. Within a few minutes you’ll have an accurate reading of your soil’s pH level.
Size: 40 test capsules
Style: Eye dropper
- Lets you know whether your soil is suffering from a nutrient deficiency
- Very accurate and easy to use
- Good value for money
- It can be difficult to compare the colors
5. Trazon Soil pH Meter
All plants need good soil, light, and moisture to thrive. This can be difficult to achieve even if you are an expert gardener. But with the Trazon soil pH meter, you can have access to this information within a couple of seconds. If your plants are not growing the way you expected them to, even though you’re doing everything right, your soil’s pH level is likely either too low, or too high.
You can also check your soil moisture levels, and whether or not it’s getting enough light. This is the perfect tool for beginners, because it’s extremely user friendly. It’s light in weight too, so you won’t have any trouble carrying it inside to use on your indoor plants either.
Size: 3.52 Ounces
Application: No batteries required
- Three in one function, soil pH, light, and moisture
- Extremely accurate reading
- Very durable
- Perfect for beginner gardeners, very user friendly
- The moisture level reading can be slightly off
What is pH?
Some substances are either acid or alkaline, and this is measured in pH units on a scale of 0 to 14. The number 7 is neutral, any number less than 7 is acidic, the lower the number, the higher the acidity. Any number above 7, is alkaline, the higher the number, the higher the alkalinity. The majority of soils are either extremely acidic, or extremely alkaline. The range will depend on several factors, including the amount of rain it’s been exposed to and the soil’s parent material.
The majority of cultivated plants grow in slightly acidic soils, typically with a pH of around 6.5. However, plants such as rhododendron, azalea, blueberry, gardenia, and pin oak need very acidic soils with a pH level of 4.5 to 5.5. The majority of ornamentals, grasses, and vegetables also thrive in slightly acidic soils.
Nutrients Needed For Healthy Plants
Plants need certain nutrients for healthy growth, they are divided into the following:
- Primary – the most important nutrients
- Secondary – the second most important nutrients
- Micronutrients – the third most important nutrients
Potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen fall into the category of primary nutrients, in comparison to other plant nutrients, they are needed in large amounts. Sulfur, magnesium, and calcium are secondary nutrients, plants don’t need as much of these, but they are still essential. Manganese and zinc are micronutrients, and plants need them in very small amounts. When gardeners start noticing a decline in the health of their lawns or plants, the first thing they rush to is fertilizer.
In some cases this may fix the problem, but in others it won’t. The majority of micronutrient and secondary deficiencies are easy to reverse, this is achieved by correcting and maintaining the soils pH levels.
pH Levels – What do They do?
pH levels contribute to several factors when it comes to plant growth. The nutrients that are available to plants are dependent upon the soil’s pH level, to start. When young leaves have a yellow tint between the veins, it is an indication of an iron deficiency. However, it’s not the soil that is lacking in iron, but that the soil is not acidic enough, which means it does not have the ability to convert iron into a form that can be absorbed by the plant. Slightly acidic soil ensures that nutrients are readily available for plants, which is why they thrive best in this environment.
Plant poisoning occurs when pH levels are too low because it releases the nutrient manganese at such high levels that it becomes toxic to the plant. Geraniums are especially susceptible to this. A poisoned geranium plant will have dead, brown-flecked, or yellow leaves. A low pH level can also cause the release of too much aluminium, although this is not a plant nutrient, too much of it can affect the roots of the plant making it difficult to absorb the nutrients that it needs. Another nutrient that can become toxic in high amounts is molybdenum, this occurs when the soil’s pH levels are too high.
Soil pH also has an influence on the organisms that live in the soil. Soil needs certain organisms such as earthworms to remain healthy. If soil is too acidic, the earthworms won’t stay. Soil also needs certain microorganisms to convert nitrogen into a form that the plants can use.
What Affects Plant pH Levels
There are several factors that can affect plant soil pH levels, these include the following:
Fertilizers: Fertilizers containing urea or ammonium cause acid to develop quickly in the soil. When organic matter decomposes, it also adds to the soil’s acidity.
Rainfall: When water runs through soil, it leaches nutrients such as magnesium and calcium. These are replaced by iron and aluminium which are acidic elements. This is why soils in climates with a lot of rain are a lot more acidic.
Parent Materials: The parent materials in which the soil was created will also help to determine the pH levels of the soil. Soils formed from basic rocks have a higher pH level than those formed from acidic rocks.
How to Increase pH Levels in Soil
There are several ways to change the pH level in soil, and the method used will determine whether you want to make the soil more or less alkaline, or more or less acidic. Here are some of the most popular methods to increase a soils pH level:
Lime: Lime products are most often applied to correct pH levels, and they are typically a ground agricultural limestone. To increase the effectiveness of the treatment, the limestone particles should be extremely fine. The amount of lime used to increase the pH level will also depend on the soil, the content of organic matter, the texture of the soil, and the plants being grown. For example, soils containing a high or a low amount of clay will need different amounts of lime.
As simple as it sounds though, adding lime to soil properly is not an easy task…there’s a catch! Basically, soil buffers itself, which means that if you add some lime to acidic soil, the pH level won’t change. That’s because of a process called buffering, which is when the soil neutralizes the lime. The more lime you add, the less buffering the soil will do. Eventually, the soil will lose its ability to buffer the lime and the pH level will start rising.
Therefore, before you add lime to your soil, you’ll need to know how much it buffers first. Unless you’re an experienced gardener, unfortunately, this is not something you can do yourself. You’ll need a commercial soil testing lab to check these measurements for you. But once you know the results, you’re good to go
There are four types of ground limestone products to choose from. These include the following:
- Hydrated Lime: Be mindful when using hydrated lime though, because depending on the amount used, it can neutralize the soil.
- Granular Lime: Granular lime is made from calcium carbonate and it quickly changes the soils pH level because it’s so fine.
- Pulverized Lime: Pulverized lime stimulates bacterial activity in the soil.
- Pelletized Lime: This is formed out of limestone rock after it has been granulated by crushing it into a powder.
Fall and spring are typically the best times to apply lime to the soil, fall in particular because rain, snow, and freezing weather help break down the lime so that it works faster. Lime application will depend on the manufacturer’s instructions; however, there are some general guidelines to follow:
Adding lime to soil works best when the lime material is tilled into the soil two to three months prior to planting. This will give the lime plenty of time to change the pH. Till the lime into the upper 7 inches of the soil, this is also known as the root zone. If the area is small enough, application can be done by hand, but if you’re applying the liming material to a yard, a spreader would be most beneficial.
A rototiller or a rake will help work the liming material into the soil. You should keep in mind though that lime is not water-soluble, so tilling is essential.
After applying the lime, you’ll need to water the soil often to keep it moist, because its active ingredients don’t work in dry soil. How often you water the soil will depend on the size of the land and whether or not the soil is already moist. However, over-watering will deplete the soil of its nutrients.
Potassium Carbonate: Potassium carbonate is very soluble, and needs to be applied to the soil using drip irrigation. Additionally, because it is highly soluble, it quickly penetrates the root zone, changes the chemical reaction, and increases the pH level. Applying the solution to soil often will prevent pH levels from dropping.
Wood Ashes: The wood burned from trees adds micronutrients such as boron, phosphate, potassium, and calcium to the soil. Wood ash does not work as quickly as lime, but overtime, it will increase the soil’s pH level. When using wood ash, you will need to prevent it from coming into contact with germinating seeds, or plant roots because it can cause damage. Wood ash is also most effective in sandy soils.
How to Decrease pH Levels in Soils
There are several ways you can decrease pH levels in soil. However, the method you choose will depend on what you are trying to achieve. If you are looking for fast results, organic matter is not ideal, because in some cases it can take years. In general, here are some of the most common ways to reduce pH levels in soils.
Organic Matter: As mentioned, organic matter can take several years to lower the pH level of soil, so you should only use this method if you’ve got more long term, and less short term, goals for your soil:
- Plants That Are Alkaline Tolerant: Alkaline tolerant plants will reduce your soils pH level as long as the plant is alive. As the plant decays, matures, and grows, the organic matter that goes back into the soil will promote bacterial growth, and overtime, lower the pH level of the soil. However, it is also important to mention that this method is one of the slowest. Alkaline tolerant plants include: Hellebores, pinks, mock oranges, and lilacs.
- Vinegar: Vinegar is acetic acid in liquid form, and when it is added to soil, it will increase its acidity and lower its pH level. Depending on how the vinegar is processed, and its added ingredients, vinegar may also contain certain vitamins that will improve the health of the soil. An average bottle of vinegar purchased from the supermarket has a pH level of 2.4 making it very acidic. However, if you are going to add vinegar to your soil, make sure it’s organic.
For a basic treatment, combine one cup of vinegar with one gallon of water and apply it to your soil. Depending on the size of the area you wish to cover, you can either use a watering can or an irrigation system.
Chemical Compounds: The fastest way to lower the pH level in soil is to use chemical compounds. Any chemical compound you use will come with specific directions from the manufacturer, so make sure you follow them. But in general, this is how they are applied to soil:
- Sulfur: When it comes to sulfur, you should avoid using the powdered type because it’s too fine and won’t be as effective. When the sulfur is applied, soil bacteria transforms the sulfur into sulfuric acid, and it is this process that lowers the pH level. The bacteria is most active when the soil is warm and moist; bacteria is not active during the winter so don’t apply sulfur during this time. Additionally, it is important that the soil isn’t oversaturated, or the anaerobic bacteria will turn the sulfur into hydrogen sulfide instead, which kills plant roots. You can still irrigate to maintain soil moisture, but take care not to overdo it.
- Aluminium Sulfate: Use a shovel to work the aluminium sulfate into the soil, and then water it. Once the soil is evenly moist, the water will activate the product. How quickly aluminium sulfate works will depend on the amount of bacteria in the soil and its temperature. It works best in warm, moist soils.
Soil pH Test Kit Buying Guide
If you are planning on buying a soil pH test kit, there are certain features you should look for; here are some of them:
Accuracy: The most important feature of a soil pH test kit is accuracy. At the end of the day, you need to know exactly what your soil’s pH level is so that you know whether you need to increase or decrease it. The more accurate models are going to be more expensive, but if you don’t pay now, you will pay later. Look for a test kit where the resolution for measuring is as low as 0.001 pH units. Avoid the test kits that measure at +/-2 pH units.
Ease of Use: Who wants to waste time fiddling with a contraption trying to work out how to use it? You don’t have time for that; the pH test kits that use an electric meter are not only easiest to use, they are also the most accurate. All you need to do is push the probe into the soil sample, and within a couple of seconds, the results will pop up on the screen.
Durability: Durability may not be as important as accuracy and ease of use, but unless you’ve got money to burn, it’s best you pay a little bit extra and get yourself a soil pH test kit that will last.
Soil pH and When to Test it
There is no hard and fast rule for when you should test your soils pH. In general, you can test it whenever you want. Nevertheless, if you’re testing the soil after a treatment such as adding acidic matter, acidifying fertilizer, or lime, you should wait at least 12 weeks before taking a pH reading.
Soil Health Check
So, you’ve got your soil pH levels in order, it’s moisturized, and fertilized, now it’s time to check whether your soil is healthy enough to produce luscious greenery all year around. Here are the signs that you’ve got healthy soil:
Earthworms: Earthworms like soil because it provides them with the nutrients they need to survive. If you’ve got plenty of earthworms, your soil is thriving.
Soil Organisms: Healthy soil is high on animal life, you should have plenty of centipedes, ground beetles, and other critters running around in your soil.
Soil Structure: You will also hear this referred to as ‘tilth’, and it is the condition of the tilled soil. Healthy soil should have different sized chunks that keep their shape when pressure is applied.
Here are answers to some of the most common questions about soil pH.
What is the best way to test soil pH?
The best way to test soil pH is to use a soil pH test kit, but if you don’t have one, you can add water and vinegar to the soil to test for alkalinity. To test for acidity, add water and baking soda to the soil.
How do you lower the soil’s pH level?
You can lower the soil’s pH level by adding sulfuric acid, aluminium sulfate, or elemental sulfur.
Do soil pH meters really work?
Yes, soil pH meters are very accurate.
What is the fastest way to lower pH in soil?
The fastest way to lower pH in soil is by adding sulfuric acid, aluminium sulfate, or elemental sulfur.
As you have read, soil pH is important for several reasons. Sometimes, the issues you are having with your plants could be as simple as having soil that’s too alkaline or too acidic. By following the advice recommended here, you can quickly rectify this issue and have the flourishing garden you’ve always wanted.