High School Flashback: A Little Chemistry Anyone?

How much do you remember from your high school chemistry class? Um, yeah…me neither. Although I did well in the class, I think I spent most of my time trying to get out of working too hard, flirting with my crush, or being confused why H20 wasn’t called “hydrogen dioxide.” (We’ll call it a blonde moment, ok?)

If I were to ask you if you remember what pH means, would you remember? My go-to answer would be “it’s how acidic something is.” However, it’s also how basic something is, and by this I don’t mean “basic” as in pumpkin spice lattes, Bath and Body Works, or reading Cosmo. I’m talking “basic” like chemistry. Stay with me here!

Just to refresh your momory…pH stands for potential of hydrogen, and is a scale of acidity from 0 to 14. It tells how acidic or alkaline a substance is. More acidic solutions have lower pH. More alkaline solutions have higher pH. Substances that aren’t acidic or alkaline (that is, neutral solutions) usually have a pH of 7. Acids have a pH that is less than 7. Alkalis have a pH that is greater than 7. (Thanks Wikipedia for refreshing my memory!)

A few posts back, I discussed three important elements of proper houseplant care: light, water, and temperature. While these elements are of the utmost importance, I did forget to mention one – pH levels. This was brought to my attention by one of my Insta-friends who goes by the handle @that_one_plant_guy. He shared some great information with me that I am going to start integrating into my plant care routine.

Just as plants can survive without quite the right light or quite the right watering schedule, it is impossible for them to thrive if these conditions are not right for them. The same is true for pH levels; your plants may be able to “make it” if the pH of your soil is not correct, but they will not be able to grow to their full potential.

Image courtesy of @that_one_plant_guy

In order to test – and adjust – the pH of your water (which in turn affects the pH of your soil), follow these steps:

Take a sample of the water used to water your plants. (For most folks, this is tap water.)

Image courtesy of @that_one_plant_guy

Fill the testing container halfway full of the water to be tested.

Image courtesy of @that_one_plant_guy

Add three or four drops of testing solution to the water in the testing container.

Image courtesy of @that_one_plant_guy

Place lid on testing container and give it a shake. Compare your water sample to a pH chart, indicating the pH of your sample.

Image courtesy of @that_one_plant_guy

Depending on the pH of your water, adjust accordingly with a base or acid product. Mix well and let set for five to ten minutes.

Image courtesy of @that_one_plant_guy

Fill the testing container halfway full of your pH adjusted water. Add three to four drops of testing solution.

Image courtesy of @that_one_plant_guy

Compare the adjusted sample to the pH chart.

Image courtesy of @that_one_plant_guy

Keep in mind that not all plants require the same pH. It is important that you research the pH requirements of your plants in order to provide them with the proper levels. (I found this list to be very helpful!)

If you’d like to get started with measuring the pH of your soil, here are some products I’d recommend to get you started:

Full pH Control Kit
pH test kit (container and testing solution only)
pH measurement tool
Digital pH meter


I hope you’ll find this information helpful as you continue your houseplant journey!

**A huge thanks to my friend, @that_one_plant_guy, for sharing this awesome information and for allowing me to use it for my blog.

– the {house}plant momma

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