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Testing the pH of Soil Samples

Commercial and recreational gardeners are showing a growing interest in taking accurate
pH measurement of soil samples. The pH of soil indicates more than its alkalinity or
acidity strength; it affects the relative availability of nutrients, the soil life, and the type
of plants that will thrive.
The common range of soil pH varies from 4.0 to 8.0; the range of soil pH for optimal
availability of plant nutrients is 6.0 to 7.0. The ability of soil to provide adequate
nutrition to the plant depends upon the following factors:
Essential elements in the soilThe nutrients present in soil depend upon the elemental nature
of the soil and the organic material content. Soil nutrients exist both as complex insoluble
compounds (organic materials) and as simple soluble forms.
Release of nutrients to plantsSimple elements in the soil are readily available for plant
uptake. The complex forms (organic materials) must be broken down through decomposition to
simpler, more available forms to benefit the plants.
pH of the soil solutionpH directly affects the availability of essential nutrients. For example,
though iron, manganese, and zinc become less available as the pH rises above 6.5, molybdenum
and phosphorus become more available. When the soil is acidic, minerals such as zinc, aluminum,
manganese, copper, and cobalt become more soluble for plants uptake. However, an excess of
these ions can be toxic to plants. Alkaline soil contains a higher quantity of bicarbonate ions,
which interferes with the normal uptake of other ions, harming plant growth.

Soil life refers to living organisms that live in the soil and break down the organic
materials. Soil bacteria that assist in the decomposition of organic material thrive at a pH
of 6.3 to 6.8. Fungi and mold prefer a more acidic soil, making soil more prone to
souring and putrefication.
Plants also have different soil pH preferencesseveral gardeners web sites offer charts
of preferred pH levels for different plants. Knowing the pH of soil can help you choose
the correct plants and the required treatment for your soil.

Testing the pH of your soil sample

Equipment Needed
Method A. LAB: To get started you will need a standard pH meter, a pH electrode, an ATC
probe, a stirrer with stir bar, beaker, deionized water, and buffers. We recommend a
Sure-Flow electrode because the free-flowing, easy-to-clean junction never clogs.
Method B. If the testing is being performed for recreational gardening, you can use a pH
tester with ATC (35634-10) and buffers for calibration (35653-04).
Soil Sampling
Scoop up soil into a clean, dry plastic jar or plastic bag. Remove stones and crush any
clumps of soil for better results. Gather two to three representative samples of each soil
sample to confirm results. No sample preparation or preservative required.
Laboratory TestingMethod A

Weigh 20 g of soil sample into a 100 mL beaker.

Add 20 mL of deionized (DI) water and place on a stirrer to mix for 30 minutes.
Cover and let stand for an hour.
For the most accurate measurements, allow the buffers and the soil sample both to come to room
temperature. (A difference in temperature will add error to your measurement.)
5. We recommend a 2-point calibration with a pH 7 and a pH 10 buffer solution. The electrode slope
should be between 92 and 102%.
6. Rinse electrode and ATC with DI water and blot dry. Place probes in soil sample and measure pH
and record measurement.

Alternative TestingMethod B

Place soil sample about full in sample jar and add distilled water to cover soil.
Cap jar and shake the soil vigorously a few times.
Let mixture stand 10 minutes to dissolve the salts in the soil.
Calibrate the pH tester with a pH 7 and a pH 10 buffer solution.
Remove the cap and place the pH tester into the wet soil slurry.
Measure pH and record measurement.

A minor (<0.5 pH) difference between results of the same soil sample indicates good
technique and high confidence in results.
One of the easiest ways to correct the pH of your soil (both acidic and alkaline) is by
adding compost. The alternative is to add an alkaline source (such as ground limestone)
to acidic soil or an acidic source (such as pine needles or peat moss) to alkaline soil.
Consult with authorities from a local agricultural extension office, local growers
associations, or university before you apply chemicals to correct soil pH.