pH levels and what to do about them.
I am not a scientist. I do not play one on TV. However, my degree was in Library Science, which has enabled me to find out some of what scientists know.
Unfortunately, some of the information I was able to find seemed to be written in a foreign language of which I am not familiar. I speak Geek, but I wouldn’t say I was fluent in it.
Here’s what I was able to distill about pH levels.
- pH levels are a measure of the acidity (sourness) and alkalinity (sweetness) of soil.
- A numerical scale is used to express the pH level. The scale goes from 0.0 to 14.0, with 0.0 being most acid and 14.0 being most alkaline. 7.0 is considered neutral.
- It seems that pH levels are not a measure of soil fertility, but instead is an indication of the availability of access to the the nutrients. For instance, soil may contain adequate nutrients and yet plants may not be able to access those nutrients because of an unfavorable pH level.
What does that mean for gardeners? I think of it this way. I have four kids, they have four different values of nutritional needs in order to function properly. However, all four have different tastes and preferences. In order to make sure they get what they need, it may be necessary to make it palatable for them.
For example, all four need vitamin C. I could put out four glasses of orange juice for them to drink. But if Ryan doesn’t like orange juice, he won’t drink it. Meghan is on a diet so she leaves hers as well. Jonathan doesn’t like the pulp so his goes untouched. Patrick loves orange juice and drinks all four. Three of them did not benefit from the available juice or receive the vitamin C they needed. One of them is going to need the restroom in about 20 minutes.
Scenario #2, Necessary nutrient: Vitamin C
Ryan loves hot and spicy anything and loves vegetables. I give him a salad with jalapenos and sweet red peppers and tomatoes. Vitamin C delivered.
Meghan is on a diet. I give her half a grapefruit. Vitamin C delivered.
Jonathan doesn’t like the pulp. I give him fruit salad of guava, kiwi, and strawberries. Vitamin C delivered.
Patrick loved his pH balance and greedily accepted his vitamin C already. = )
I do realize this is probably an over simplification, but it helps me when I’m looking at my pH levels. I know that each plant has their own likes and dislikes for pH levels. Azaleas love acid, *Hydrangeas* like it sweeter.
It is easy to test soil pH. There are many kits readily available even at your local home improvement stores, and certainly via the internet. I get mine from Gardener’s Supply but only because I’m getting other items from them and it’s easy to toss a kit in with the other stuff.
There are really only three things you have to know about pH.
- What level does your plant want in order to be happy?
- What is the pH of the soil in which you are planting?
- How do you amend your soil in order to meet your plants desires?
The first two things you will have to find out for yourselves, as you are the one most likely to know what you want to plant in your garden. ; )
I have a few tips for how to amend your soil to make it sweeter or more acidic.
I need acid.
So you test your soil and it’s pH is 7.3. Your tomato plant wants it 5.5-7.5. You could leave it, as it is in the acceptable range. You may want to make it slightly more acidic. Sulfur can be used to amend your soil (and can keep snakes away from your chicken coup). It also stinks and every caution should be taken if you’re using it. I recommend adding pine straw to your compost . You’ll gradually change your levels and you don’t have to worry as much about burning your roots. A little pine straw goes a long way, and be sure it is pretty well chopped. I actually put pine straw in an old food processor I have just for the garden.
Sweetening the pot…plant.
To sweeten or raise your alkalinity. Again, there are a few ways. Dolomite or lime can be used. Follow directions carefully on the package. In general the more organic matter and clay present in your soil, the more lime or dolomite you are probably going to need.
I use ground egg shells and coffee grounds around each plant which has several benefits.
- It acts as a barrier for creepy crawlies, snails and slugs.
- It sweetens the soil.
- It has other trace elements that plants love.
I hope I’ve been able to shed a little light on this pH mystery. Test your soil, amend your soil, reap the rewards! There is a great link you should check out, it has many plant pH values and it has the rate of coverage for Dolomite, lime, and sulfur. The link is:
A fun note about Hydrangeas, they actually can change color depending on the pH level in their soil and the amount of aluminum present. I have a couple of friends that play around with their levels trying to change blue to pink or pink to purple. It’s a fun, beautiful plant to grow.
Have a Paisley Phat Tuesday! ~KeriAnne