Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Fun Ways to Test Soil pH

A sliced Red Cabbage used to test soil pH

Hello fellow readers, Last week, we spoke about the importance of testing your soil’s pH before adding supplements, as lawns and plants require different pH levels. John from Bangor asked how to test his soil. Sure, you can buy a pH test probe, and the tried and true soil tests are offered through your local extension office. But there is fun, science project-like ways of testing soil pH that you and your kids will love.

Snag a cup of soil about 6 inches below the surface. Be sure the area has not been limed or fertilized within the past six weeks and the sample is free of sticks, rocks, or mulch.

Pour 2 cups of distilled water (available at the drug store) into a pot. Don’t use spring or tap water as they will impact pH. Chop and add 1 cup of red cabbage and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, then allow it to cool for a half hour—strain off the liquid which should be bluish purple showing a neutral pH. Pour two inches into a clean cup and add two teaspoonfuls of soil. Wait thirty minutes, then check the color. If purple or violet, the soil pH is near 7 or neutral. Pink means the soil is acidic. The more acidic the soil, the brighter the pink. Blue or green means an alkaline pH – the more brilliant green, the more alkaline.

There’s a vinegar and baking soda option you can play with too. Put two teaspoons of soil into two separate containers. Add ½ cup of white vinegar to the soil in one container. If it fizzes, your soil is alkaline. If there is no fizz, add enough distilled water to the other container to make the soil muddy. Pour ½ cup of baking soda into that cup; if it fizzes, your soil is acidic. If neither sample fizzes, you likely have a neutral pH which is good. Most plants and lawns love neutral.

Some naysayers claim vinegar and baking soda are not strong enough to give an accurate result. But I say, why not have some fun first, then spend a few bucks on a pH soil test kit or a pack of pH test strips? That way, you can test your test results and maybe poo-poo the naysayers. As you can see, pH testing can bring out the kid in all of us!

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Link to the previous story, To Lime or not to Lime 

Column updated 1/28/23 


Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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