Soil vitality is key to growing healthy, thriving plants in your garden. Although often overlooked, soil PH is important not only for soil microbiota, but also for plants. But how do you test soil PH, and why is it important? In this article, Savana will let you know more about soil PH and how it affects your garden.
What Is Soil PH
PH is defined as a measure of the acidity or alkalinity (sometimes called alkalinity) of a solution. The PH of the solution ranges from 0 to 14, where 0 is very acidic, 7 is neutral, and 14 is very basic. In comparison, lemons have a PH of about 2, and antacid tablets have a PH of 10.
Soil type, amount of rainfall, and the amount of organic matter present in the soil are probably the biggest factors in determining soil PH. Where rainfall is frequent and organic matter accumulates, soils gradually acidify. Conversely, soils tend to become more alkaline in places with low rainfall and poor permeability.
Why Test Soil PH
PH can help you determine which plants will grow and thrive in a particular soil. This is because, in their native environment, plants have adapted to specific pH levels for optimal nutrient uptake. Before planting in a new location, it is often beneficial to test the pH of the soil to determine exactly which plants do well and which soil amendments need to be added prior to planting.
How to Test Soil pH?
Testing the PH of soil is easy and inexpensive. The best time to test the soil is before you start planting. Different parts of your yard may have different PH levels, so it's best to test each part to get a full analysis of your landscape.
The easiest way to test is to purchase an electronic soil tester. To use this small device, first collect soil from about 2 inches below the surface and remove all debris. Make sure the soil is at room temperature. Add distilled water to the soil until it becomes a slurry, then insert the probe. After about a minute, note the reading. For this method, use only distilled water with a neutral PH of 7 to avoid affecting the PH of the soil. Clean soil tester probes after each use.
If you're a new homeowner, or looking for a more detailed soil analysis, you may want to opt for a soil testing kit. In addition to testing for PH, the kit includes tests for three key nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Alternatively, you can contact your county's Extended Services Department for soil testing services. These additional tests can give you a more complete picture of your soil's nutrient load and vitality.
The Effects of Soil PH on Your Garden
The long-term effects of soil PH on your garden depend largely on what you want to grow.
Plants have adapted to specific soils for thousands of years. Some plants have adapted to more acidic soils, while others have adapted to more alkaline soils. The PH range of your soil will greatly determine what grows well in your garden. While it is true that many plants are relatively flexible when it comes to PH, some plants that require a specific pH range need to stay within that range in order to thrive. This is because these plants cannot properly absorb nutrients beyond their range. In other words, the required nutrients are present in the soil, but the plants are unable to properly absorb and utilize them due to PH levels. Knowing the PH of your soil is key to growing the right plants or amending your soil accordingly.
Whether PH fluctuates throughout the season or every year
While the changes may be small, PH levels can fluctuate throughout the year, especially in places where seasonal changes are strong. During the summer when plants grow rapidly, rain prevails, organic matter decomposes rapidly, and the PH tends to decrease. Combined with the use of fertilizers, this descent can be difficult for some plants that prefer a higher range.
The soil in many home gardens naturally becomes more acidic over time. This change is most noticeable in indicator plants such as 'Daylight Blue' hydrangeas. In this variety, you'll notice pink flowers in alkaline soils and blue to purple flowers in acidic soils. If your flowers start out bright pink and start to darken to blue or purple, this is a sign that your soil is becoming more acidic.
Whether different plants need different soil PH levels
As mentioned earlier, many plants require a specific PH level in order to absorb nutrients and thrive. For example, typical garden plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, and camellias all require more acidic soil. If plants are grown in soil outside their preferred PH range, they may experience problems from lack of nutrient uptake, including chlorosis (loss of color between leaf veins), stunted growth, and leaf spots
How to Change Soil PH
You can change the acidity or alkalinity of your soil by adding soil additives.
To lower the PH and create more acidic soil, there are a few methods that can be used. Adding organic matter to the soil, especially compost, peat or sphagnum moss, will slowly lower the soil's PH. This method takes time and naturally increases soil health and microbiome while producing a more acidic composition. However, to lower the PH quickly, you can use products that contain sulfur compounds.
If your goal is to raise the PH of your soil, one of the best ways to do it is to add garden lime. Consisting mostly of calcium, adding lime to soil increases the PH.
Understanding soil PH is key to creating a lush, living garden. From deciding what to plant and how to improve your soil to controlling pests and diseases, PH plays an important role in the overall health of your garden.