Choose garden plants that match your soil pH and planting zone.

How to Test the pH of Garden Soil Using pH Paper

by Mary Lougee

The pH level of garden soil for your vegetable or flower gardens is a measure of the acidity or alkaline properties based on the hydrogen ion concentration. Levels range from 1 to 14, with 1 through 6 being acidic, 7 representing neutral and numbers over 7 are basic or alkaline soil. Performing a soil test for pH levels with pH paper helps you choose plants that do well in your soil type for the best growth and performance without soil amendments.

Put on gardening gloves to avoid contaminating the soil samples.

Dig a small circle in the soil test area with a sharpshooter shovel. Dig straight down 4 to 6 inches deep for perennials, vegetables, fruits and shrubs. Dig two additional holes in the same manner in the soil test area.

Remove the top half of the soil from each hole and lay it aside. Place the bottom half of the soil from each hole into a clean, dry bucket.

Pluck out any grass clippings, stones or hard matter from the soil samples, while thoroughly mixing them together.

Measure one tablespoon of soil and place it in a plastic cup. Add 1/4 cup of distilled water to the cup. Swirl the cup to mix the contents. Allow the sample to settle for about a minute.

Insert one end of a soil pH paper into the contents. Compare the color of the sample against the pH chart on either the box or a chart inside the box, depending on the brand of pH test kit.

Items you will need

  • Gardening gloves
  • Sharpshooter shovel
  • Bucket
  • Spoon
  • Distilled water
  • Small plastic cup
  • pH Hydrion paper


  • Compare pH test strips and the chart in daylight, but not direct sunlight, for the best results to match the colors. Indoor fluorescent lights can slightly change the resulting color of your soil test and chart.
  • Soil pH test paper is an inexpensive, speedy and accurate way to determine your soil type. Soil probes and meters are expensive equipment, and litmus paper is a coarse determination of soil pH.


  • Store your pH test charts and kits indoors out of sunlight to prevent fading of the color chart.

About the Author

Mary Lougee has been writing for over 10 years. She holds a Bachelor's Degree with a major in Management and a double minor in accounting and computer science. She loves writing about careers for busy families as well as family oriented planning, meals and activities for all ages.

Photo Credits

  • Martin Poole/Digital Vision/Getty Images