© 2018 The Author(s). Soil pH regulates soil biogeochemical processes and has cascading effects on terrestrial ecosystem structure and functions. Afforestation has been widely adopted to increase terrestrial carbon sequestration and enhance water and soil preservation. However, the effect of afforestation on soil pH is still poorly understood and inconclusive. Here we investigate the afforestation-caused soil pH changes with pairwise samplings from 549 afforested and 148 control plots in northern China. We find significant soil pH neutralization by afforestation - afforestation lowers pH in relatively alkaline soil but raises pH in relatively acid soil. The soil pH thresholds (T pH), the point when afforestation changes from increasing to decreasing soil pH, are species-specific, ranging from 5.5 (Pinus koraiensis) to 7.3 (Populus spp.) with a mean of 6.3. These findings indicate that afforestation can modify soil pH if tree species and initial pH are properly matched, which may potentially improve soil fertility and promote ecosystem productivity.