Why Soil pH Plays a Bigger Role in Your Garden Than You Might Think

Amir Tajer

Posted on July 10 2018

What Is Soil pH?

Acidity is essential for plant life on earth to prosper. Acidity will often determine the characteristics, quality, absorbability and solubility of many plant-based substances. When the time comes to design and plant your garden, you will need to be aware whether your soil is acid or alkaline, as different kinds of plants will thrive in different kinds of soils. The soil pH is a number used to describe how acid or alkaline your soil is. 7.0 on the pH scale is considered neutral, below 7.0 is acid, and over 7.0 and the soil is alkaline.

How Can You Find Out The pH Of Your Soil?

To find out the pH of your soil you will need to test it. Testing your soil is relatively quick and easy – simple pH testing kits are available in most garden centers, or you can send it to a laboratory for a more accurate reading. You should always select a sample that is representative of your overall quality of soil, that is, a sample from a patch that has not been treated with any fertilizer or compost recently. It is also possible to test your soil without a kit, all you will need is some vinegar and baking soda. A sample should be taken from different parts of your garden and then two spoonfuls taken from that sample and placed into separate containers. If the soil fizzes when it has 1/2 cup of vinegar added to it, then it is an alkaline soil with a pH of somewhere between 7 and 8. If it does not fizz after this initial test then add water to both containers until they are muddy and then add 1/2 cup baking soda. If it fizzes you have acidic soil, with a pH between 5 and 6. If your soil does not react to either of tests then it is neutral with a pH of 7.

The Ideal Soil pH Level

The optimum pH range for most plants is generally between 5.5 and 7.0, don't let this deter you if your soil is outside this range as many plants have learned to thrive at values not in this bracket. As many chemical processes that take place in your soil are dependent on pH levels, it should be treated as a matter of great importance that you maintain the appropriate ph levels, to encourage them to reach their full yield potential.

Soil pH's Affect On The Health Of Your Plants

Certain plant diseases such as club root and nutrient deficiencies are often associated with acid or alkaline soil conditions and can often be fatal. Club root is treated by raising the soil pH by liming (treating with dolomite lime). Nutrient deficiencies are often shown by the leaves of your plant, they may be discolored or falling off, and can be treated with fertilizers.

How can you correct the pH of your soil?

To increase the pH of your soil you must apply a compound made from powdered limestone, or lime. This solution should be applied into the soil approximately two to three months before planting to give it time to take effect. Dolomite lime raises pH level as it is a micronutrient which is a mixture of calcium and magnesium carbonates.

To decrease the pH of your soil you should add organic matter, such as pine needles, compost or composted manure. Although, this will take a considerable period of time to act and is only really an option if you are keen to garden organically and have no time constraints. Adding sulfur is also an effective way of reducing your soil's pH gradually. Ammonium sulfate helps to reduce pH level by adding nitrogen and sulfate and is commonly used to help meet the nutritional requirement of growing plants.

The Ability of Soils to Hold Water

There are many factors that affect the ability of soil to hold water. Temperature, humidity, and a wide range of other variables will help shape the natural process of water retention. Different kinds of soils will have different water retention capabilities. Certain soils have a high clay content and as a result of this can hold substantial amounts of water for an extended period of time. Whereas sandier soils have very poor water retention capabilities. One must also factor in the plants that will be living in the soil to get a bigger picture of how well water will be retained, as some plants will be more demanding than others.

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