Successful gardening is as much about chemistry as botany. Soil chemistry, for example, has an enormous influence on plant health. Have you ever wondered how soil pH affects the growth of your plants? You might also be wondering how to raise your soil pH to a better level using only organic soil amendments. If so, this article will fill you in on everything you need to know.
Soil pH is measured on a scale of 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic, 7 neutral, and 14 being the most alkaline. Without mildly acidic to mildly alkaline soil, plants cannot absorb enough nutrients for healthy growth. Organic matter creates better pH for organic soil.
Unlike humans, very few plants are afflicted with a sweet tooth. Have you been adding lots of fertilizer, micronutrient powders, etc., but the plants are still not thriving? Then you should suspect the soil pH as it is either not favorable to your plant or the plant is unfortunately unable to adapt to the pH changes.
What Is Soil pH?
A pH is just a number or a value ranging from 0 to 14. The number 7 in the middle of the scale is considered neutral pH, and anything below 7 is called acidic or sour, in layman’s terms, and anything above 7 is called alkaline or sweet.
Soil pH is a scale that tells you how acidic or alkaline your soil is and is measured easily with a cheap DIY kit that you can get from garden centers. This works by matching a solution color with the chart in the instructions.
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Whichever color it says is the closest to your soil pH. However, if you want more accurate results, you’ll need to send soil samples to a lab. Be warned that that will cost you a pretty penny. A DIY kit is a good enough scale for anyone wanting to grow their vegetables.
Why Is Soil pH Important?
The right pH is necessary to get the maximum growth from your plants. Soil pH is important to ensure that everything works properly in your soil. There are several reasons why the pH of the soil is important.
Soil Bacteria Need A Specific pH Range.
Soil bacteria, which release nitrogen from organic matter in the pH range of 5.5 to 7, will be affected if the pH range is far too acidic or more than neutral.
Nutrient Leaching And Availability Are Affected By pH levels.
pH can lead to nutrient leaching and affect nutrient availability. This is because a pH of below 5 is when the plant nutrients leach out of the soil faster. Nutrients for plants are generally available between 5.5 and 6.5. Some nutrients become unavailable to plants at low or high pH levels. When there is nutrient leaching, there is a nutrient deficiency.
Some Elements Can Reach Toxic Levels.
The elements aluminum, iron, and manganese can reach toxic levels as the soil pH levels decrease. This will harm the plant’s growth.
pH Levels Can Affect The Soils Structure.
Soil structure is important as it is easier to work with soil with pH levels in the middle range than high acidic or high alkaline, which can be difficult to work with.
In What Way Does pH Affect The Growth Of Plants?
Nutrients need a certain pH to be absorbed at the root level. Nitrogen is a vital nutrient, in addition to phosphorus and potassium. Nitrogen is responsible for the green growth of plants and helps them grow faster.
The amount of available nitrogen becomes limited at a lower soil pH. Therefore, very acidic soil can prevent your vegetables from thriving. Phosphate, which contains the element phosphorous, is usually only fully available when the pH range is 6.5 to 7.5. Phosphorous is responsible for healthy root growth, disease resistance, flying, and seeding.
No weather element will replace its properties. This is why it is important the soil pH is at the neutral range. An exception to this is when plants form bonds and relationships with soil-borne fungi, which will release phosphates to plants in acidic conditions. Trace elements like Boron can also have fewer bonds available at a low soil pH.
How Do You Test Soil pH Levels At Home?
First of all, to find out what the pH level is, you have to know how to measure and adjust the soil pH to the desired level. Every hobby or even serious gardener must have a handy pH testing tool. There is a wide range of soil pH meters that are inexpensive, including digital meters with varying costs. Here are some steps to follow:
- Ensure that the soil you are testing is saturated, as you will not get an accurate reading if the soil is bone dry.
- Punch a test hole into the soil to insert the meter device. Some digital meter devices like digital meter pens are long, which will give you an accurate reading as they go fairly deep into the soil.
- Turn the probe on and insert the extended end of the device into the hole created. Wait several seconds so that it can stabilize before you pull the device out.
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What Is The Desired Soil pH Level?
The ideal soil pH could make a huge difference and is an important part for those looking to grow gardens that are bountiful because most of the nutrient absorption at the root level happens at a certain pH level.
The ideal pH is usually slightly acidic for most plants, like 6.5 plus or minus 0.2. However, this does not mean that plants cannot grow outside this range. Places with lots of vegetation and rain, such as rain forests, tend to produce acidic soils, whereas dry and arid places like deserts are more likely to have alkaline soil pH levels.
How Do You Create A Better pH For Plants Naturally?
So, now you know how to test the soil pH levels and know the desired soil pH level. Now you’re probably wondering how you can adjust your soil pH if it is too alkaline or even just neutral to achieve the ideal pH around 6.5 or even how to make your soil more acidic, especially for plants that love acidic soil.
It’s not surprising that for most plants, too much acid is just as bad as too much alkaline when you’re trying to grow vegetables. Lowering or increasing your soil pH will not happen overnight, but the type of method you choose will influence the speed of the soil’s reaction. There are several natural ways to make your soil acidic if it is too alkaline and vice versa:
Rain Water Makes Soil Acidic Naturally.
First and most simple is rainwater. If it is a rainy season and your soil is neutral or alkaline, you need not do anything. All you should do is check the soil pH after it rains. You don’t have to do anything to change the soil pH because rain makes the soil acidic naturally.
Ensure That You Have Good Compost In Your Soil.
This is a basic common requirement when it comes to gardening. At least 20-30 percent of your soil or potting mix should have well-decomposed manure, such as leaf compost, cow dung, or even any kind of compost that has worked for you or you have seen work for most gardeners.
This in itself is sufficient to make your soil have that desired pH level. If you add compost to your soil immediately, you need to wait at least a month or two before seeing the pH change because it is gradual.
Vinegar Is An Easy Way To Lower pH levels.
About 1 teaspoon of white vinegar per liter of water can make the soil pH drop so that the soil pH is more acidic. The best way to incorporate vinegar is to water your soil with this solution thoroughly once a month or so. It is always better to check the soil pH before and after application with this method.
Use Coffee Grounds And Tea Waste To Drop pH Levels.
The tannic acid present in coffee grounds and used teabags and teabag herbs will slightly lower the soil’s pH. This is one of the simplest ways to adjust the pH levels of your soil, as almost everyone has coffee or tea in their kitchen cupboards.
What Plants Lower Soil pH levels?
Shredded Pine barks or any available evergreen barks, if available, can be used to mulch on the top-level soil to make your soil more acidic. For more options, Sphagnum Peat moss is another great way to lower the soil pH level.
However, it may take the moss several years to lower soil pH significantly. The wait is worth it because the Peat moss also improves the soil’s nutrient-holding ability and drainage. Use it at the rate of 2 ½ pounds per square yard of soil.
Elemental Sulfur Will Make Your Soil More Acidic.
Chemical products containing elemental sulfur can also lower the soil ph. Organic elemental sulfur needs several months to lower pH. Soil bacteria turn sulfur into sulfuric acid, mostly in warm, moist soil. It is, therefore, best to apply it in spring so that it reacts with the bacteria throughout the summer.
Your soils type will dictate the amount of sulfur you will need to use. To lower the pH of loam soil, use 2 pounds of elemental sulfur for every 100 square feet of soil. You will need to increase the sulfur to 3 pounds for heavier clay soils.
Because the pH of the soil begins to increase as soon as the soil bacteria exhaust the elemental sulfur, two applications of 1 pound per 100 square feet in early spring and early summer are more effective than a single one. In a warm winter climate, space four applications of ½ pound per square feet every three months.
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Aluminum Sulfate Is A Great Way To Lower pH Levels.
Chemically called Potassium Aluminum Sulfate, Alum is a compound commonly used in the water purification process. This compound is available in powder or crystal form. You can grind the crystals into a fine powder, use about 5 to 10 gms per liter of water, and water your plants at least once monthly.
Because aluminum sulfate lowers pH as soon as it dissolves in the soil, it is a tempting alternative to peat moss and elemental sulfur. The problem is that amounts higher than 5 pounds per 100 square feet of soil damage the plants. If your soil needs more, split the amount into 2 or more applications as you would for elemental sulfur.
Ash Wood Is An Excellent Way To Increase pH Levels.
If the soil is too acidic and you want to raise the soil pH, you can use Ash wood. This will make the soil more alkaline. Plants like peas, spinach, avocado, mangos, etc., tend to thrive well in more alkaline soil.
What Is Organic Soil?
Organic soil can be simply explained as soil that has life in it. Organic soil matters can be used to create a better pH to grow vegetables in. In a nutshell, the best option for raising or lowering your pH levels is to add organic matter.
Plants that are grown in soil that has a lot of organic matter tend to have healthier roots and can extract a sufficient amount of nutrients from the soil even when the pH is not optimal. Organic matter improves the soil because it provides more nutrients and increases the plant’s tolerance for acidic and alkaline conditions.
However, organic amendments take the longest because they react biologically with the soil.
Lowering or increasing a garden’s soil pH to a healthy plant level takes the right tools, soil amendments, hard work, and in some cases, a lot of patience. Even a small dip in a soil’s pH can make a big difference to plants. Knowing how to lower or increase soil pH when necessary gives you a nearly limitless choice of plant possibilities.
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