Why does soil pH matter?

The foundation of every successful garden starts with quality soil. Whether you’re growing vegetables, flowers, turf, shrubs, or any other plant matter, you must be aware of your soil pH and understand that it can change periodically.

Soil pH influences the plant’s ability to consume nutrients. When soil pH is too low, plants cannot adequately absorb macronutrients, and likewise, plants cannot take-in micronutrients when pH is too high. This is true regardless of the presence of nutrients. You may have a soil nutrient analysis test indicate perfect levels of soil nutrients, but if your pH is off, the plant cannot absorb those nutrients.

There are many products available in local garden centers that can help you adjust your pH, if needed, but this should only be done if a soil test indicates a need for change.

It is very easy to increase soil pH and it can happen quickly, however, it can be extremely difficult to lower pH and can take several years to get your pH where it needs to be. This is why it is so important to conduct a soil pH test (at minimum), prior to supplying your soil with any type of material that can alter the soil’s pH.

I have personally found several online hobbyist gardening groups that have recommended applying lime on top of your turf every year. While this very well could benefit your turf, it may not be needed and will certainly elevate your pH, which might prove difficult to lower.

Soil Test Options:

While there are many meters you can buy yourself for testing soil pH, keep in mind that your local Extension office conveniently has three options for testing your soil pH and even can provide a nutrient analysis of your soil:

  1. Soil pH Test – For a low price, your county Extension office can provide you with a soil pH test. To have a test completed, collect at least one cup of soil. Remove any debris from the soil, such as roots, leaves, rocks, or any foreign material. Allow the soil to dry-out on a paper tower for at least 24-48 hours. Place the soil in a paper bag and take it in to your Extension office. It’s important to ensure you use a paper bag, as this allows air to move through the soil and continue drying it out. The soil must be dry for adequate testing. Once you arrive with your soil sample, fill out the soil pH test form and hand your sample in.
  2. UF Soil Analysis – For $10 per sample, you can submit soil samples to the UF Soils Diagnostic Laboratory, located in Gainesville on University of Florida’s main campus. This soil test not only provides you with your soil pH, but it also gives you a nutrient analysis of your soil and makes recommendations for amending your soil, if needed, for the particular plant(s) you are trying to grow, whether that be vegetables, turf, palms, shrubs, or any other plant matter. You must ship the soil samples in yourself, but your Extension office can provide you with the forms and bags to collect your sample(s).
  3. Soil Kit – The last of the three soil testing options is the Soil Kit. Soil Kit is a service provided by AgriTech Corp., an outside organization that has partnered with UF to provide clients with more specific information on their soil samples, using state of the art technology and providing 24-hour customer support. This service not only provides everything mentioned in the two previous soil testing options, but also allows you to create an online profile where you can look at an aerial view of your property and drag measurement lines around to calculate nutrients and/or amendments recommended for your property.

Additionally, this service can recommend specific products that are ideal for your particular situation. Soil Kit can be picked up for free at your Extension office and the kit comes with a pre-paid shipping label to mail in your soil sample. The cost of the SoilKit sample is $29.95 per sample. For more information, please visit: https://turf.ifas.ufl.edu/soilkit/

For more information on soil pH, check out: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/SS480

by jeremyrhoden

Source: UF/IFAS Pest Alert

Note: All images and contents are the property of UF/IFAS.

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