pH measurement

How does soil pH affect plant growth? How can I measure soil pH?

The pH or acidity of the soil can be a key factor in ensuring strong and healthy plant growth.

While it is true that specific plants vary in the soil pH they prefer, there are some factors which are affected by soil pH universally across all plants.

We have taken a look at how soil pH affects plant growth and how you can test soil pH levels.

Healthy soil supports healthy plants, and pH is a key factor that can affect plant growth.

How does soil pH affect plant growth?

The main factor which varies with soil pH is nutrient availability.

  • Very acidic – pH 3.0 to 5.0
    • Calcium, Potassium, Magnesium and Copper (Ca, K, Mg and Cu) are highly soluble so are easily washed away
    • Phosphates are unavailable for absorption
    • Bacteria growth is hampered, so there is less rotting of organic material which makes new nutrients available
  • Acidic – pH 5.1 to 6.0
    • Ideal for certain plants which cannot withstand lime
    • At pH 5.3 or below, all of the buffering lime has been used up – this means any small additions of acidic medium will have a larger effect on bringing the soil pH even lower
  • Slightly Acidic – pH 6.1 to 7.0
    • Usually the best level for most plants (except for specifically “lime hating” plants like Rhododendrons and some others)
    • Nutrients are readily available
    • Bacteria and earthworm activity is optimum, resulting in good renewal of soil with new matter being quickly broken down
  • Alkaline – pH 7.1 to 9.0
    • Phosphorous (P) becomes less available
    • Iron and Manganese (Fe and Mn) are less available – lime-induced chlorosis can result
    • Plants may exhibit symptoms of nutrient deficiencies

Remember that these are general guidelines, and that different plants do have different preferred pH levels, so check what pH is best for the specific crop.


How can I test soil pH?

There are two main options available for measuring soil pH, each with their own benefits and drawbacks.

Soil Test Kits

These all-in-one kits allow simple and low cost measurement of pH

SK 200


  • Simple and low cost
  • All in one kit with little to no maintenance needed
  • Some kits also allow other parameters to be measured like nitrates, phosphorus, potassium (NPK) etc.


  • Lower accuracy of results
  • Some rely on manual observation of the results – i.e. the sample changes colour and you compare this by eye to a chart. This can be difficult if the water obtained is still coloured or cloudy from the soil.


pH meters

An electronic pH meter offers a higher accuracy method, but does require more maintenance and care.



  • More accurate results
  • Direct digital reading – does not rely on human observation by eye, so all readings are more consistent
  • There are now lower cost and simple to use meters available which are suitable for soils – e.g. the Laqua Twin pH meter, or the TRUEscience pH cap paired with the flat pH probe


  • You must make sure you use a suitable probe – a double junction flat probe is best for soils, others may quickly fail in soil environments
  • Ongoing care for the meter is needed – calibrating it at the start of each use day using pH buffers, and making sure it is stored correctly when not in use
  • Other parameters cannot be tested (like NPK etc)


For more information on soil test kits or pH meters, follow the links above or contact us with any questions


2 thoughts on “How does soil pH affect plant growth? How can I measure soil pH?

  1. My husband and I want to start a garden in our backyard, but first want to get the soil testing so we know our crops will be healthy. Your article had some great points about the importance of soil pH, and I liked how you said that slightly acidic pH is the best level for most plants, as nutrients are readily available and bacteria and earthworm activity is optimum. Thanks; we’ll keep this in mind when getting our soil tested for a vegetable garden.

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