pH Testing Garden Soil the DIY Way | Home, DIY & Stuff

pH Testing Garden Soil the DIY Way

March 17, 2013
DIY pH testing of garden soil with vinegar and baking soda.

Test soil pH the DIY way using separate containers of vinegar, and Baking Soda dissolved in water.

Here is a quick, cheap and effective DIY way to determine whether garden soil is acid, neutral, or alkaline.  Getting the pH balance of soil right determines whether or not various nutrients can be absorbed by plant roots.

In the last year or two, we have really been struggling with a particular patch of soil in the corner of the garden where nothing seems to survive after early seedling stage, despite all efforts to improve the soil.

We considered sending a soil sample off for professional analysis to see what the problem was, but simply couldn’t see the DIY fun in that.

We resorted to an old, but well trusted method.


All we needed was a couple of small containers, around a dessert spoon full of standard Baking Soda, and less than a quarter cup  cup of vinegar.

We poured the vinegar into one container.  We dissolved the Baking Soda powder into a small amount of water in the other. (Getting quantities perfect is definitely not important!)

pH Testing

DIY pH testing of garden soil with vinegar and baking soda.

Adding Japanese garden soil to a Baking Soda solution produced a small amount of bubbling. The soil is therefore acidic.  Add Lime!

A portion of dry soil was then taken from just below the surface of the problematic garden bed and tested in each of the containers.

We started with the vinegar and after swirling the soil into a mud slurry … nothing happened.  The liquid just gave us a muddy stare.

Doing similar in the water with dissolved Baking Soda however, produced ample bubbles.  Our DIY technical soil analysis was therefore complete!


It was that simple.  If bubbles are produced in the vinegar slurry, the soil is alkaline/basic (ie: soil pH is higher than 7).

If there is no reaction in the vinegar, but bubbles are produced in the Baking Soda solution, then the soil is acidic (ie: soil has a pH less than 7).  If there is not reaction in either solution, you are in luck!  The soil is roughly pH neutral.

DIY pH testing of garden soil with vinegar and baking soda.

If you need convincing that this method works, try pouring a little Baking Soda into the vinegar and see what happens!

In Japan, the volcanic soils are notoriously acidic, requiring loads of lime for balancing. And from our simple DIY test, we can safely conclude that we still need to add even more lime to the soil to make it productive.

This DIY pH test is not for the rocket scientist gardener who wants exact pH information on their soil, but it does the job for us.

We have discovered what we needed, as we now know we need to add more lime.   If the result was a fizzing of soil in the vinegar however, we would know to add Sulfur instead.

This is a quick, cheap, but very effective pH test!

If you doubt our DIY bucket chemistry, try splashing a little of the contents of one prepared container into the other and just see what happens for yourself…

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