Do you give your garden as much love and attention as your neighbor, yet your garden is not as healthy and productive? Chances are, your soil pH level may be out of balance. “pH” is a measure of your soil’s acidity or alkalinity. Each plant in your garden or yard has an ideal range that it will thrive in. This ideal range varies from plant to plant. If your garden soil is outside of this ideal range, the vital nutrients and minerals your plants need may become “locked up”, and the roots are unable to absorb them.
Sweet, sour, or bitter? Sweet garden soil is the mid-range or ideal level for most plants. Sour soils are acidic, with a low pH level. Some plants prefer slightly acidic soil. Bitter is used to describe alkaline soils or high pH.
Why do nutrients get “locked up” in the soil? The mid-range of the scale is the optimal range for bacterial growth to promote decomposition, a process that releases nutrients and minerals, making them available to your plants. Mid-range pH is also the ideal range for the growth of microorganisms that convert nitrogen in the air into a form that your plants can use. Outside of the ideal range, both processes are increasingly inhibited.
Tip: Don’t forget to check the soil pH for houseplants. The soil in your pots and containers may not be ideal. “Ya never know……. until you test ’em.
Testing the pH level in the soil (and nutrient levels, too) should be a routine task for gardeners. It is also a fun task if you test it yourself. Even if your garden has been productive over the years, testing can be beneficial. Soil can get out of balance for several reasons. Most often, using inorganic fertilizers will make your soil more acidic over time. Adding amendments to the soil can also alter pH levels. If you do not test your soil occasionally, you are passing by the opportunity to maximize your plants’ potential in the size, health, and quality of flowers, vegetables, and fruits.
If your soil is acidic, you will want to increase pH. Lime is most commonly used. It is readily available in your local garden store.
To lower the pH of alkaline soils, compost and manures are the best materials to use.
Changing the level in your soil takes time. It is best to work towards improving your soil in the fall or early spring. Planting time is too late.
A soil tester, or meter, is invaluable to measure the level. If you don’t have this vital garden toy, err tool.
Compost, like garden soil, has a pH value that varies, depending upon what you put into your composter. Learn about compost pH.