Soil is more than dirt and more than just a medium that you can grow grass, vegetables, flowers and trees in. Soil is made up of multiple layers (silt, sand and clay), it is made up of many different types of organic matter (root cells, leaves, worm castings, bark, etc.), there are thousands to even millions of microorganisms in a couple of ounces of healthy soil and there are even different types of soil (fungal/acidic and bacterial/alkaline). So many factors determine whether your seeds/transplants will grow into healthy productive plants, bushes, shrubs or trees and one of the key factors that determines the success of anything that you plant is knowing whether your soil is acidic or alkaline.
Soil pH levels have a tremendous bearing on your ability to grow things. Neutral pH is 7.0 and many things can grow in a neutral environment, yet some of the things that we plant need higher pH levels to grow and some need lower pH levels to grow. Vegetables for instance, prefer neutral to alkaline soil and if you were to plant vegetables in acidic soil they will not grow. Flowers, most bushes and most trees (fruiting trees are the exception) prefer acidic soil and most flowers, bushes and trees will not grow in alkaline soil. This is why knowing your soil pH matters so much as no matter how much effort you put into growing tomatoes in a wooded area, they will not grow as the soil of a wooded area is acidic.
Knowing this, how can you figure out whether your soil is acidic or alkaline? Soil testing definitely helps and your local agricultural extension offices (New York City, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles all have agricultural extension offices so you can find one anywhere in the U.S.) have soil sample kits that you can purchase from them and once you’ve collected your samples you can send them in and your agricultural extension office will interpret the results for you within a few weeks. You can also buy pH strips at a local garden store and get quick results.
There are also a number of ways that you can tell whether your soil is acidic or alkaline without having to run any soil tests. Soil that non-fruit bearing trees grow in will be acidic one hundred percent of the time, soil that blueberry bushes grow in will also always be acidic, soil that rose bushes or any flowering bush grows in will be acidic one hundred percent of the time. Hard, compacted soil like you find in a forest will also always be acidic. Grass on the other hand prefers natural to slightly alkaline soil, so if grass is not growing in your soil there is a good chance that your soil is acidic. Soil that has tinges of copper or gold colors (this is a good thing) will also be acidic one hundred percent of the time as woody plant materials that breakdown in the soil turn copper or gold as they are breaking down.
Checking to see if your soil is acidic or alkaline is something that all gardeners and farmers should do every year to ensure that you can successfully grow the vegetables, flowers, fruit, trees and bushes that you want to grow. If your soil is acidic and you want to grow vegetables or if your soil is alkaline and you want to grow flowers, there are ways to naturally change the acidity or alkalinity in your soil. With this said, it is very easy to make a mistake and create soils that are too acidic or too alkaline where nothing can grow, so if you want to change the pH of your soil hire an experienced gardener or farmer or call your local agricultural extension offices so you can be guided through the process.