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The Effects of Soil pH: Understanding the Basics

If you have any experience with gardening at all, you know that it’s not always easy.  All plants need something different to grow properly, be it different amounts of sunlight, different amounts of water, different types of fertilizer.  Whatever it is, so many different factors go into determining if your plants will grow to be healthy or not.  One of these factors may be something that you’ve never thought about, but could have a huge influence on how well your plants grow, and this is the effects of soil pH on the health of your garden. To be able to understand the effects of soil pH, it’s important to know exactly what the term “Soil pH” actually means.  pH is the technical term for describing how acidic or alkaline (non-acidic) a solution is.  Soil pH is that exact same definition, just applied to soil.  It’s measured on a scale from 1-14, with any value less than 7 meaning the soil is acidic, and greater than 7 meaning your soil is alkaline.  If you have a pH value of exactly 7, then your soil is neither acidic or alkaline.  Now why are the effects of soil pH relevant to you?  Keep reading!

The Effects of Soil pH When Gardening

Because the pH value of your soil is directly influential to the health of your garden, know the effects of soil pH before you begin planting is very important.  Each plant that you put into your garden has an individual pH range requirement for optimum growth, and should be considered before planting happens.  The reason that the effects of soil pH matter so much is that the nutrients available in the soil depend on the pH level.  Different levels of pH can support different nutrients, or none at all.  Take Nitrogen for example.  This is a vital nutrient needed for plant growth, and is bountiful is soils with a pH level above 5.5.  Phosphorus, also incredibly important to the healthy growth of plants is usually found when soils have a pH value between 6 and 7.  Generally, a good place for the pH level to be between a 6 and 7, which is where most of the nutrients needed are available.

Figuring Out the pH Level of Soil

Usually, when trying to determine the pH level of the soil in your garden, a basic pH testing kit is the easiest option.  There should be a test tube-like container, a testing solution, and a color chart so that you can figure out what the result of your acidity test is.  Follow the instructions on the testing kit, but the basic idea is that you put a sample of your soil from your garden inside the test tube, add the solution, and shake it.  You then wait for the solution to turn a color, and match it up with the chart.  Below is a chart showing the most common range of pH levels, and comparing them to common foods or products. effect of pH on soil

The Effects of Soil pH: Making Your Soil More Alkaline

As we previously stated, making your soil more alkaline is the same as increasing the pH level.  Because the effects of pH on your soil are so important, this may be a necessary step.  This is necessary if your soil is at a pH level that is slightly acidic, meaning it will probably fall around 4 or 5 when you do your test.  To be able to accommodate more plants in your garden, raising your pH level will greatly help.  One way to help lower the acidity is to actually add a form of lime to your soil.  Yes, lime.

Lime is usually made up of large amounts of calcium and magnesium, and can contribute in lowering the soil’s pH.  Usually, when added to gardens, it’s in the form of burnt lime, hydrated/slaked lime, or agricultural limestone.  The smaller the particles you’re adding to your soil are, the faster the acidity will start to decrease, and you’ll see the effects of soil pH start to work their magic.

Changing your soil’s pH is not an instantaneous process, so some waiting time should be expected.  While hydrated lime works the fastest because it is slightly soluble (meaning it dissolves in water) and will be able to soak into the soil faster, it may still take up to two or three months before you see the alkalinity of your soil increase and the effects of soil pH work.

The Effects of Soil pH: Making Your Soil More Acidic

The opposite of what we just explained would be decreasing the pH value of your soil, making it more acidic.  If your plants are too alkaline, they may not be getting all of the proper nutrients that they need to grow.  Most fruit plants, such as blueberries or strawberries, require a more acidic soil as well, since the food itself is acidic.  To make your soil more acidic, aluminum sulfate or sulphur will do the trick.  The fastest acting would probably be Aluminum Sulphate, since it increases acidity as soon as it has a chance to dissolve into the soil.  However, add too much, and you’ll end up with too high of a pH, negatively impacting the effects of soil pH.  This method is also short-lasting, and will need to be reapplied often.

Sulphur, while slower, is more highly recommended in order to get the maximum benefits from the effects of soil pH on your plants.  Bacteria in the soil will help to convert the Sulphur into sulphuric acid, but depending on the presence of said bacteria, the type and texture of the soil, and the moisture levels, it may take a shorter or longer time.  If the conditions aren’t right, this could take upwards of a couple months.

 

Once you’ve tested the pH level of your soil, and figured out if you need to increase or decrease the acidity of the soil, you should see the effects of soil pH start to work wonders in your garden!  It’s an impact that can’t really be achieved any other way, and once your have healthy soil, head over to our Seed Store to see what great plants you can plant in your garden!

 Posted on : October 30, 2012

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