How To Test Soil Acidity/Alkalinity without a Kit

Do-It-Yourself Soil Test

Man wearing jeans and boots holding dirt in hands
Compassionate Eye Foundation/Steven Errico/Getty Images

Find out if your soil is acidic or alkaline without a pricey test kit. This simple DIY test will give you immediate results.

Difficulty:

Easy

Time Required:

15 minutes or less

What You Need:

  • A soil sample
  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Water
  • 2 sample containers (a disposable cup, etc.)

Here's How:

  1. Scoop some soil into a container. Then, add half a cup of vinegar. If the soil bubbles or fizzes, it's alkaline. That chemical reaction that you're seeing, is what happens when an acid (the vinegar) comes into contact with something alkaline (the soil).
  1. If no reaction occurs, scoop a fresh soil sample into a second container. Add half a cup of water and mix. Then, add half a cup of baking soda. If the soil bubbles or fizzes the soil is highly acidic. That reaction you're seeing is the result of acidic soil coming into contact with an alkaline substance (the baking soda). 
  2. If your soil doesn't react to either test, it has a neutral pH, and doesn't require any tweaking. Just keep adding organic materials, like compost and leaf mold to maintain that balance.
  3. Amend your soil with wood ash or lime, if it tested acidic. Amend your soil with sulfur or pine needles, if it tested alkaline.

Keep in Mind: Good pH is only one aspect of healthy soil. To improve the health of your soil, check out:

Tips:

  1. If you want a precise pH measurement, get a soil test kit from your local home improvements store or university extension office. An extension office test is likely to be the more expensive of the two options, but it'll also provide you with more information. Expect your test results to include information about any mineral deficiencies that your soil has, along with recommendations on how you can make improvements.
  1. Soil amendment takes time, so make small changes and wait for them to take hold, before making further amendments.
  2. You may have different types of soil in different parts of your yard, so consider testing each of your garden beds.
  3. Choose plants that will thrive in the soil that you have. Hydrangeas and blueberries, for example, love acidic soil. Sometimes, it's just easier to work with the soil that you have than to fight it.
  1. Continue to test and tweak your soil over time. Maintaining healthy soil is an ongoing task.

More Ways to Improve Your Soil on the Cheap:

Don't feel like you have to spend money to improve your soil. Here are some free materials that you can add to your soil to improve pH, water retention, soil structure and nutrient content:

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