Sunday, August 02, 2015

Bring Your Lawn and Garden Into Balance: How to Measure and Correct Soil pH

Since the Neolithic Revolution, which occurred 10,000 years ago or so, human beings have been struggling to help plants grow. Sometimes, this has led to a bountiful harvest. Other times, there has been terrible drought. Even with 10,000 years of experience under our belt, humanity has had a difficult time in farming and gardening. This is largely because there are so many factors interacting at the same time.

Plants require water, sunlight and food – typically in the form of nitrogen. But they require these three elements in precisely balanced quantities, usually formulated by the plant’s evolutionary history in a given environment. Plants from tropical rainforests, for example, will require daily watering, while a cactus may not. We’re all basically familiar with those concepts of ample water and ample sunlight.

The story is different when we start talking about plant food. Many people – even professional farmers and gardeners – are unsure how much nitrogen any given plant should receive. And here’s where things can get even murkier: Adding too much nitrogen in the form of fertilizer can alter the pH levels of your soil, and that can have disastrous consequences for crops and gardens alike.
In a nutshell, the pH level of your soil is how acidic or non-acidic it is. In chemistry terms, high pH means high alkaline, also known as “basic” (the opposite of acid), while a low pH level means the substance is acidic. Citric acid, for example, has a pH level of roughly 2.2. This explains why you pucker when you drink lemon juice. But not everyone knows how to test pH levels in soil.

To be sure, over-fertilizing is not the only way to lower the pH levels of your soil. Much depends on local geology and agricultural activity, in addition to topography, history and other factors. In other words, there are so many variables that sometimes it can be difficult to pin down precisely what might be causing your acidic soil.

Luckily, that doesn’t mean you’re helpless to combat it, especially if you use lime for soil pH control. There are several ways you can decrease the acidity of your soil and restore balance to your garden or fields. This is good, because controlling soil pH is essential for the health of your plants.

James White has a lot more to say on this subject. For more click here.