Knowing your garden soil’s pH is important because this is how you determine the right type of vegetables or fruits to plant. pH is a scale used to measure and identify the level of the acid or alkaline in a substance. In soil, the level of acid or alkaline in it usually determines what mineral elements are available to plants.
pH Scale Range
The pH scale ranges from 0-14:
- 0 means that the soil is extremely acid
- 14 means that the soil is extremely alkaline
- 7 is neutral
Soil pH levels vary from place to place. Dry places typically have alkaline soil while in places with heavy rainfall annually they tend to have highly acidic soil.
The right type of soil for a garden is one that teems with fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms. These microbes breakdown the nutrients for the soil and the plants. However, if the soil is too acidic or alkaline, many microorganisms die so even if your soil is rich in nutrients, if the nutrients are not broken down, plants cannot get to them and they’ll die.
Determine Your Soil’s pH
There is no hard and fast rule to how often you should test your soil’s pH level but testing should be done at least once every three years. If your soil is sandy-textured, test every 2-3 years and if you have clay soil, test every 3-4 years.
Time your tests before the growing season i.e. early spring after the last frost is out or in the fall before the ground freezes.
You can test your own soil pH using pH level testing kits that you can buy. These kits are simple enough to use; just mix the soil with water to test the pH. Results from these testing kits are not always reliable though.
There are farm or garden-service store that offer soil testing services or you can get the County Extension office to test your soil. If you go this route, you will be asked to collect specimen and submit that to them for testing. You will get the result back in about 2-3 weeks from shipping to the lab.
Changing pH Level of the Soil
If the test shows that your garden soil’s pH level is too low, like for example it is below 5.0, you can raise the level by adding lime. A word of caution about using lime: do not add too much or better yet, add only if you absolutely need to. Working lots of organic matter or compost into the soil will also help balance the pH level. Your local County Extension office or garden-service store often send recommendations on balancing soil pH level along with the test result. Stick to their recommendations.
If the level is above 5.0, you’re fine because there are lots of crops that can grow in pH level of 5.0 to 8.0. Examples include: carrots, leek, eggplant, chili pepper, tomatoes, cabbage, artichoke, beets, parsnip, spinach and beans.
If the test result shows high pH level i.e. it is over 8.0, lowering it could be tricky. If you received recommendations to lower the pH level, stick to it. The most aggressive but effective way to lower soil pH is by applying pure sulfur. You can organically lower the pH level of your soil by Adding compost and mulching with acidic organic mulches like pine needles. Organically balancing your soil’s pH level increases microbial life which improves the structure and quality of your soil.
Understanding soil pH is important for all types of gardener. It helps you better plan your garden. Knowing how to balance or change your garden soil’s pH will enable you to plant the kind of vegetables or fruits you want to plant.