pH is one of the main factors that determine if your plants will thrive or die. Learn about pH and the best soil pH testers to choose from for the healthiest results. We will also share the “Super Soil Recipe” that will increase plant growth and yield for up to three years without having to add more amendments!
An accurate pH tester will let you know if it is acidic, neutral, or alkaline. If the pH experiences even small changes, the effects can be huge.
This article will help you choose between the three best soil pH testers, and to understand pH values. As a Farmer’s Lamp bonus, we will be giving you the “super soil recipe.” This recipe will increase plant growth and yield for up to three years without any extra amendments being added!
In This Article
- Soil pH and Why Using pH Testers is Important
- Soil pH of Vegetables
- Reviews of the Best Soil pH Testers for the Garden
- What is the Best Soil pH Tester?
- How to Check pH with pH Meter
- How to Use Your Soil pH Meter
- How Accurate are Soil pH Testers?
- Practices for Using Your Tester
- How to Raise and Lower Soil pH?
- The Super Garden Soil Recipe
- Summary of Best Soil pH Testers and Super Soil Recipe
Soil pH and Why Using pH Testers is Important
The pH determines the availability of nutrients for your plants.
Acidic soil, under 6.5 pH, stops nutrients like phosphorus from being fully utilized by some plants and does not encourage beneficial bacteria to live at a healthy level.
Highly alkaline soil, a pH generally over 8.0, prevents the proper levels of manganese, copper, zinc, and iron from being absorbed by your plants.
All plants have their own special pH level that they thrive in. A pH of 6.5 is just about right since most plants thrive in the 6.0 to 7.0 pH range. Some plants, like blueberries, prefer more acidity, while a few, like asparagus, prefer neutral to slightly alkaline.
Soil pH of Vegetables
- Asparagus 6.0-8.0
- Bean, pole 6.0-7.5
- Beet 6.0-7.5
- Broccoli 6.0-7.0
- Brussels sprout 6.0-7.5
- Cabbage 6.0-7.0
- Carrot 5.5-7.0
- Cauliflower 5.5-7.5
- Celery 5.8-7.0
- Chive 6.0-7.0
- Cucumber 5.5-7.0
- Garlic 5.5-8.0
- Kale 6.0-7.5
- Lettuce 6.0-7.0
- Pea, sweet 6.0-7.5
- Pepper, sweet 5.5-7.0
- Potato 4.8-6.5
- Pumpkin 5.5-7.5
- Radish 6.0-7.0
- Spinach 6.0-7.5
- Squash, crookneck 6.0-7.5
- Squash, Hubbard 5.5-7.0
- Tomato 5.5-7.5
You can see why being able to check your soil’s pH is something every gardener can benefit from. By knowing the pH level, you can make the necessary amendments so they are able to absorb all the nutrients needed to be healthy, productive plants.
I’ve narrowed down the many pH testers on the market to those we consider the three best for your gardening needs.
Reviews of the Best Soil pH Testers for the Garden
You can see why it’s so important for you to test the pH if you want your plants to thrive. Let’s look at some of the best pH testers out there so you can find the one that’s right for you.
Easiest to Use Soil pH Tester
Sonkir Soil pH Meter MS02 3-in-1 Moisture/Light/pH Tester
A budget-friendly pH tester that also checks sunlight levels, and moisture levels. This helps you make any adjustments necessary to grow the healthy garden plants you need.
Its ease of use is one of its best features. You simply insert the double probes into the dirt 2 to 4 inches in the area you want to check, select the element you want to measure (light, moisture, or pH) and then simply wait 10 minutes for your results!
The SonKir soil pH Meter MS02 is also a battery free test kit which is a bonus for this budget-friendly option.
- Lightweight and portable
- 3-in-1 functionality tests moisture, sunlight, and pH
- Comes with a 12-month guarantee
- A double probe soil pH meter
- Not as effective in hard, rocky, or dry soil
Budget-friendly pH Tester
Atree Soil pH Meter, 3-in-1 Tester Kits
This 3-in-1 pH tester kit is a great choice as an easy-to-use, helpful tool for growing any type of fruits, flowers, and vegetables. Simply insert the probes into the soil between 4 and 6 inches and flip the switch to the element that you want to measure.
Next, twist the probe slightly until you start to see the needle on the monitor move. Allow electronic meters to sit for about 10 minutes before you take a reading but be sure not to leave it in the dirt for too long.
One more thing, because there are no batteries, you don’t have to worry about recharging or getting an inaccurate result from a lack of power.
- Lightweight and portable meter
- 3-in-1 functionality testes moisture, sunlight, and pH
- Comes with a 12-month guarantee
- A double probe meter
- Not as accurate in rocky, or dry soil
Professional pH Tester
Kelway HB-2 pH Tester & Moisture Meter
The Kelway HB-2 pH and Moisture Meter is a professional pH tester. Although it’s a premium option, it’s well worth the money as it’s a top pick, professional-grade product.
You can use this on large farms or for small home gardens. This product provides an exceptionally quick reading with a pH accuracy of ±0.2.
But this product isn’t just for testing pH levels. It can also evaluate moisture content with better accuracy of ±10%.
It doesn’t require any batteries or power sources to operate. It works based on the principle of electrical potential between two dissimilar metal plates. It’s solid and reliable, allowing you to check any kind of soil for its pH or moisture content.
Once you’ve selected your settings, you only need to wait two or three minutes to get a reading. Since it records so quickly, it won’t take you long to get the job done.
It comes with a durable carrying case with a belt loop, making it easier to carry as you move around your garden and homestead.
Durable product that comes with a carrying case
- High accuracy and quick readings
- Dial is easy to read and to adjust, allowing you to take numerous readings
- Can be difficult to remove the probe from soil, as well as to clean off any dirt clinging to the probe
The Gain Express Soil pH and Moisture Meter is a great value for novice and experienced gardeners.
It can measure pH as low as 3 and as high as 8, with an accuracy range of +/- 0.2 pH.
It also provides moisture reason readings on a scale of 1 – 8. It’s compact and easy to carry.
This garden tool does not require any batteries or electricity. It’s easy to use as all you need to do is insert the slender 295 mm electrode into the dirt. It easily penetrates all types of soils.
It takes just a few minutes for it to display an accurate reading of the pH value. It is also waterproof working well in almost any weather.
- Gives you an accurate pH reading in a few minutes
- It’s entirely waterproof
- Requires no batteries or electricity
- Doesn’t monitor for light
What is the Best Soil pH Tester?
The answer depends on your specific needs as all three of these are solid choices for the average gardener. It really comes down to your personal preference, budget, and your gardening needs.
How to Check pH with pH Meter
There is a small difference in each tester but since they all use probes to measure pH I can cover general tips on how to successfully use them.
Ensure the Tester is Clean and Calibrated
- You want a clean probe to avoid false results.
- Clean each probe with distilled water and blot dry with a clean rag.
- Make sure not to use a rag that is going to scratch or damage the probes.
- If your probes are so dirty that the water won’t clean them, check your manual to use a cleaning solution recommended by the manufacturer.
- You will want to use a buffer to ensure your unit is working properly. Most of them will recommend a buffer for this step in the manual.
- After you have verified it’s clean and working properly, you are ready to start testing.
How to Use Your Soil pH Meter
Methods to Insert Probes
- Insert probes in the area you want to test to the depth your instructions call for.
- An alternative method for hard soil: Loosen the dirt using a small garden hand shovel. Dig a pilot hole 2 inches deep in the area to be tested as different spots and depths may have different pH levels. Do not remove the dirt from the hole. This makes it easier for the probe to penetrate.
- I usually test the ends of each row in the garden and every 10-20 feet along the rows beside the plants.
Using Soil Samples
- You can also take samples from all the spots you choose for testing. Use a clean shovel to remove 2 cups of dirt and collect each sample in a clean bucket or pail.
- Mix your samples thoroughly with a wooden or steel spoon making sure to remove any rocks that could damage the probes on your tester.
- Measure out 2 cups of mixed-up sample soil into a clean container then add distilled water so it is moist and can be packed down into the container.
- Turn on your tester and insert it. Be sure not to let the sensor probe touch the bottom or sides of the container.
- Let the probes sit until it you get a reading. This will depend on your model of choice which can be from one minute to ten minutes.
- Once the recommended time for your model has passed note the reading in your garden journal.
Making sure that you clean the probes will make it easier for you to use it the next time you need to record a pH reading. Simply rinse the probes off with distilled water and blot dry with a soft, clean rag. Store it using the manual’s recommendations.
How Accurate are Soil pH Testers?
The most accurate way to test the pH of the soil is by sending out a sample to a reputable lab. However the real beauty of pH meters is they are faster, cheaper, and when used consistently, they give you reliable results that you can use to manage your soil effectively.
Practices for Using Your Tester
- Make sure you are using the tester according to the instructions that came with it.
- Take 3 tests in the same area close enough to obtain readings in the same spot but be sure to make new holes with the probes so the contact with the dirt is good.
- Always make sure you wait the required time for your tester to completely finish to get the most accurate results.
- Calibrating your tester is sometimes required depending on your brand choice. This will require you to use buffers that will be recommended by the manufacturer. This involves calibrating using acidic, neutral, or alkaline solutions.
- I would recommend cleaning your probes after use with distilled water and blotting dry with a clean, soft cloth.
How to Raise and Lower Soil pH?
One important thing to keep in mind before making pH adjustments is that not all plants prefer the same pH levels.
Plants like blueberries thrive in acidic soil while others prefer alkaline soil, so it’s important to use the chart to find what plants you are planting or checking on need.
The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14 with a pH of 7 being neutral. Below 7 is considered acidic, above 7 is alkaline.
Most plants prefer a pH that’s between 6, and 7.5 which you can see in the chart.
If your garden has a pH that does not suit your plants’ needs you can choose plants that thrive at that pH or amend the soil to change the soil’s pH level.
How to Lower Soil pH
There are a few natural products you can use to lower your soil pH.
- To lower pH organically, I like to use lemon or vinegar, or Earth juice natural pH down
- Another option is Sphagnum peat moss which will also add organic matter and makes a good fertilizer. Just add 1-2 inches and then work it into the top 8-10 inches of topsoil.
Be aware that this can be an expensive way to lower pH in your soil as it is pricey when used on large garden spots.
- Granular sulfur is another way you can lower pH and while it is a budget-friendly fix, it does take a little while to work. The amount you use will be determined by the type of soil you have. You use less for sandy soils and more for clay soils.
This is a reliable and safe way to lower pH it just takes around 3 months to work.
For lowering pH apply up to 2 pounds per 100 square feet and don’t reapply for at least 3 months.
- Ammonium sulfate and iron sulfate are faster ways to lower pH but they must be applied 5 X’s more often. Take this into consideration when calculating costs.
Apply up to 5 lbs per 100 square feet. Be careful not to add more than recommended as it will harm your plants.
Some fertilizers that include ingredients like ammonia sulfate, urea, and ammonium nitrate will also lower pH just check the ingredients and the recommended dose to be applied.
How to Raise pH Levels
- To raise pH organically, I use real baking soda, or Earth Juice Natural pH up.
- Dolomite Lime helps keep your pH consistent if you are continually having to amend your pH levels.
Before you invest in amendments for raising your pH you should check for the common cause that could be lowering the soil pH. Removing these can correct the problem without any additional cost or work.
- Using fertilizers that are ammonium-based can cause lower pH in soils.
- If you are living in an area that gets a lot of rainfall, water saturation can cause lower pH levels. You will have to improve drainage or coverings to remove the problem.
- Soil that has a large amount of decomposing organic matter will also have a lowering effect on pH. Make sure your organic matter goes through a composting cycle before you continue to add more.
- Surrounding vegetation can also be the cause of low pH levels. The soil under a stand of trees or in a forest will usually have lower pH levels.
If you still need to raise your pH level here are some ways you can do it.
- Lime is the most common ingredient most people use to raise their pH. Some farmers apply it to pastures which will mainly affect only the top layer of the soil.
In the smaller garden plot, I recommend working it into the top 6 inches of the soil for best results.
Don’t mistakenly think the rain or watering will pull it deep into the soil. Remember that lime has low solubility and will not work as well unless you work it in.
- Potassium carbonate works well for raising pH and as it is highly soluble you can simply apply it and water it in. When applied correctly it will raise the levels. This is a quick way to maintain soil that has been requiring regular maintenance.
If you use wood for heat or access to wood ash, you can utilize it in all sorts of ways including your garden soil.
The Super Garden Soil Recipe
Monitoring pH While Using the Super Soil Recipe
With organic gardening, maintaining a proper pH of the soil is easier than with other forms of gardening. Hydroponics is difficult to balance pH and conventional gardening methods that use chemicals that alter components of the soil.
You should still check it once a week at least during the growing season.
By maintaining a good layer of mulch, the organic ecosystem you can create with this super soil recipe will be almost completely maintenance free.
It’s still a smart gardener who uses a pH tester on a regular schedule making sure to keep notes and records so you can spot any potential problems or trends.
Growing organically can be very challenging in the modern world. With new pollutants in the air; in rain; being carried by underground rivers from country to country, water source to water source; and in the soil itself.
This Super Soil Recipe has many benefits for you and your garden.
It’s a way to increase your success with organic growing and allows growers of any skill level to achieve great results.
What is Super Soil?
Simply put, it’s a heavily amended organic soil that provides plants everything they need at just the right times in their growth cycle.
It allows you to simply add water as needed and top dress dry amendments during the growing season.
It also does away with feeding charts and mitigates the possibilities of over or under feeding and the damage it can cause your soil and plants.
Many people, after hearing the benefits of it, ask the same first question: “How do I get some!??”
All you need to do is follow the recipe, monitor the water you use, and keep track of your pH.
I would recommend the fastest way to check soil health by using the Brix chart. It’s an easy way to monitor for any deficiencies that may need to be addressed with organic amendments.
This “recipe” will be effective for 3-5 years. The reason it has such a long life is that the microbial life created continues to work and grow.
Some gardeners choose the no-till method by simply mixing the recipe into the topsoil and then covering the it with wood chips, leaves, or some kind of ground cover.
If you use wood chips, like the back to Eden method, you will want to use the right kind of wood and check every year to make sure it isn’t leaching nitrogen from the garden.
Make sure you use the best mulch or crop cover because the cover you choose can change the nutrient levels over time.
Some gardeners choose to amend the topsoil with the super soil recipe at the end of the growing season so they can work it in without using the no-till method.
This Super Soil Recipe makes 100 gallons. You can make more or less according to your needs.
Ingredients For Super Soil Recipe
You can find all these amendments and supplements at the links provided or shop TFL Country Storefront where you can find everything you need in one convenient shopping list.
- 14 cu ft potting soil – This doesn’t need to be nutrient rich. You just need a base soil, so the most important factor will be to get dirt that is not full of toxins. The nutrients your plants need will be available when you’re done mixing the recipe.
- 25-50 lbs Worm Castings
- 5 lbs Blood Meal – This is a fast nitrogen source, and will make your plants grow bigger produce.
- 5 lbs Feather Meal – This is a slow, extended-release nitrogen source, which will keep your plants supplied with nitrogen throughout their whole life.
- 5 lbs Bat Guano – This organic fertilizer is a great way to improve absorption and structure while providing plants a full macro and micronutrient profile.
- 2.5 lbs Bone Meal – Excellent source of phosphorous and calcium.
- 2.5 lbs Fish Bone Meal – Beware that this can attract bears, if that is an issue simply, double up on the Bone Meal.
- 3 cups Oyster Shell – High-quality source of sustained-release calcium.
- 3 cups Kelp Meal – Features a diverse micro-nutrient profile, with a fair dose of nitrogen and potassium.
- 2 cups Azomite – fortifies and re-mineralizes.
- ¾ cup Epsom Salt – A natural bloom booster
- 2 Tbsp Mycorrhizae – This will help roots get established.
Making your own super soil is going to take some time and hard work.
You will have to mix it and it’s best to let it compost 3 months before using it. This helps the microbial life have a good start.
- Step 1
- Lay down a tarp or a small kiddie pool. I prefer the kiddie pool because there’s better control of the mixture.
- Put half of the base, potting soil or topsoil, in the pool or on the tarp and spread it out evenly.
- Then, add half of all the other ingredients and mix thoroughly. You want to make sure you get everything mixed evenly.
- Step 2
- Put in the remaining base and ingredients and combine them well.
- Now combine the whole mixture well.
- Next, get it damp. It should ONLY be damp don’t soak it. This will start the activation process for the micro-organisms.
- Step 3
- Compost the mixture.
- Place the mix into composting buckets or garbage cans to keep it contained for the composting process. Make sure it is damp, not soaked.
- Cover it with a tarp or lid to protect it from elements and animals.
- Stir it thoroughly 1-2 times a week. You will do this until you can’t see any of the amendments you added.
- You will know it’s ready for the next step when it looks uniform.
- Make sure to use clean water or rainwater to keep it damp for the next 2-3 months while it composts.
- After composting is complete make sure it is mixed well before using.
- Step 4
- Add your super soil to the garden.
- If you are adding it before planting, you will need to prepare the plants.
- Dig a hole where you are going to plant and fill it with something like a seed starter mix or quality potting soil. Then plant your tender seedlings into the hole. This will prevent your plants from getting burnt by the hot mixture during the young stages of the plant’s life.
- By the time its roots are large enough to reach the Super Soil, they will be mature and won’t be damaged.
- I recommend doing this even if you are planting more mature plants there because transplant shock weakens the plants. In this weakened condition, they may be damaged.
- If you are adding it to an area that is already planted, simply work it into the top few inches of dirt being careful not to pile it around the plant base. Cover with mulch or row cover to prevent loss of nutrients.
How to Water Your Plants in Super Soil
You want to make sure that your garden does not experience much runoff. Runoff will carry nutrients out of your garden area.
You can limit runoff by the direction of your rows, top dressing, deep mulch, and drainage systems.
Once it’s dry 1-2 inches deep, it’s time to water. Make sure to water as much as it can absorb.
Until you know how much water it takes to thoroughly water without runoff, it’s better to underwater instead of overwater.
The goal is to keep as much of the nutrients around the plants for as long as possible for their peak health and production.
Summary of Best Soil pH Testers and Super Soil Recipe
If you are serious about gardening and want your plants to produce healthier, nutritious, and beautiful plants, tracking and checking pH level is crucial. It’s one of the best ways to troubleshoot any problems before they have time to do any damage.
Any of the three soil pH testers we reviewed in this article will serve well in many gardening applications. However, using it correctly and in the same way each time, will help you accurately track and make good future plans.
A good garden journal will help you know your baseline and keep track of future readings. You can make sure you don’t overcorrect, make a record of any amendments and their outcome, and make future plans based on accurate information.
As always, we’re here to help.