Ever find yourself wondering why your plants aren’t growing as they should be? You dutifully water them and make sure they get enough sun; yet they seem to be going nowhere. The problem could be something you would never suspect – your soil pH. Imbalanced pH in the soil can cause even the hardiest plants to suffer. Luckily, soil pH can be corrected, even by a novice gardener.
What Causes pH Imbalance?
To understand what causes an imbalance, we should first know what a normal pH range looks like. Each plant is a little different, but ideally your soil pH should measure at 7.0.
- Soil with a balance below 7.0 is considered to be acidic and can inhibit the absorption of calcium and other nutrients by plants. Acid soil can be caused by high rainfall, or things like the decay of ammonia in some fertilizers.
- Soil with a pH balance above 7.0 is alkaline; the alkalinity of the soil can inhibit a plant’s ability to use iron, copper and zinc. Alkaline soil can occur in places with low rainfall, or areas where the base rock that the soil comes from is saline by nature.
Measuring Your pH
There are several different ways to measure the pH of the soil in your garden, so you can choose the method that best suits your garden and your budget.
- Disposable pH strips: Relatively cheap, this option is good if you have a small garden or don’t plan to test regularly, since the strips in the kit only work for one use. To use: Dig a small hole with a trowel and fill the hole with distilled water. Hold the test strip in the water and then see what color it turns to assess your pH level.
- pH testing probe: More expensive than pH strips, a testing probe is ideal for those that will need to retest their soil or those with a larger area to test. To use the probe, simply dig a small hole and fill it with distilled water, hold the probe in the water for about 60 seconds and your results will be on the device monitor.
- Red cabbage: This method is more fun than functional and could be a great way to get your kids in the garden. It does work – just not as accurately as other methods. Grab a red cabbage, chop it or throw it in a food processor to save time, and put the cabbage in boiling distilled water. Once the cabbage has boiled, strain the plant material out and pour it into clean containers. Now, just add a few sprinkles of soil into the liquid. Neutral soil should make a purple solution, while acidic soil will be pink and alkaline soil will make a green or blue solution.
You should always use distilled water when testing soil pH because it has a neutral pH of 7.0 and will give you the most accurate reading.
Correcting Your pH
Once you have your pH reading, you can see what your soil needs to be balanced again.
- pH below 7.0: Acidic soil is the most common pH problem gardeners experience, but it can be easily fixed by adding limestone to your garden. Wood ash is another option for raising the pH; it’s organic, and if you have a fireplace this is a great way to recycle ashes.
- pH above 7.0: Alkaline soil can be fixed in a variety of ways, the most common being a sulfur application. Sulfur is cheap and relatively safe, but slow-acting – don’t apply more than 2 pounds per 100 square feet at a time. Sphagnum peat is an organic option that will add organic matter to your soil and increase water retention while lowering the pH.
Once you have your pH reading, adjusting your soil will be easy but time-consuming. Soil pH will change over time, so be sure to keep an eye on it and be mindful not to overtreat your lawn. With the proper soil pH and a bit of patience, your garden will thrive.
Guest Blogger Bio
Ali is a kombucha tea-sipping blogger who focuses on organic gardening and healthy living via her family blog Homey Improvements. She also enjoys sharing her recent discoveries with DIY projects and home tips. Ali is “Alaska Grown” but now resides in PA. Connect with her on Twitter at @DIYfolks.