Dying Plants

Dying Plants

Healthy Soil. Balancing ph. in your Garden



I’m willing to bet that anyone who’s been gardening for any amount of time has run into the problem of why their plants just don’t do well.

There could be several reasons, but let’s start with the most common and simplest to check and treat.

Soil that is out of balance in the acid/alkaline range is common enough but many people simply are not aware of  the problem. Their plants aren’t doing well so they keep feeding it fertilizer and watering the living daylights out of the plants and they still don’t grow well or produce fruit, veggies, herbs etc.

Most—but certainly not all—plants like a neutral ph soil to SLIGHTLY acidic.  This is in the range of 7.0/6.0

on a scale of 4.5 (out of sight acidic) to 9.0 (out of sight alkaline)

To illustrate the difference of –let’s say a 1 point difference in the scale (7.0 vs. 6.0)—

A soil solution with a pH of 6.0 is ten times more acid than one with a pH of 7.0

Enter the humble ph. test strip. Some of you may know these as Litmus paper. But whatever you call it, it’s nothing more than a piece of paper impregnated with a reactive chemical that changes color depending on whether your soil is acidic or alkaline.  If using the ph test strips it’s simply a matter of making a slurry from your soil mixed WITH YOUR GARDEN WATERING SOURCE*, sticking the test strip into the slurry and comparing it to a chart that comes with the strips.  (* this is important. Well water and municipal water can be vastly different in ph levels.)

The alternative to this is a soil ph meter. These are handy little gadgets that you simply stick in the ground and it gives you the soil ph level. Often they come in a combination of ph and moisture scales and they come in both battery powered or reactive (two different metals reacting with one another) and range in price from about 10.00 to 40.00 depending on source and being reactive or battery operated.

Ok. So you’ve tested your soil and have the results in hand and have discovered you need to make some changes. Hopefully you’ve done this several weeks or months ahead of planting season because getting our of balance soil to where it needs to be can take some time.

Healthy Plants

Acidic soil. Adding in compost/decayed manure will help raise the alkaline level of your soil. Be certain to thoroughly mix it with the soil, water it thoroughly, mix again and then let it brew for a couple of days—this will help eliminate hot spots in your readings. If you’re using a commercially purchased compost, read and follow the instructions closely. ALSO be sure to read the contents part carefully, as there may be stuff in the commercial mix you don’t want to be adding to your garden soil.

Alkaline soil. To increase the acidity of a soil that is too basic (alkaline) add a granular sulfur mixture to your soil. Follow all directions on the package you use.

MORE: To lower soil pH of light sandy loams one full point (i.e., from 7.0 to 6.0) as a guideline the use of sulfur, 10 pounds of dusting sulfur per 1,000 square feet, should be about right. In medium loam soil, add 15 pounds, and to heavy clay loam, 20 pounds. (Ordinary dusting sulfur is perfectly satisfactory; no need to pay a premium for special grades.)

The only sensible way to solve the problem is to treat the soil and recheck the pH reading after two weeks, after a month, and again after two months. If not enough material was applied, simply add more. If too much, there is no harm in using lime to undo the effects of the use of sulfur to lower soil ph.

Organic matter, a vital soil ingredient, has an important effect on pH. When present in the soil in generous amounts it “buffers” the bad effects of a too alkaline soil. For this reason, plants growing in a soil high in organic matter will often do well even though the ph reading is nearly a point either way from the ideal range. Most plants commonly grown in gardens do best within a pH range of 6.0 to 6.9. Within this range all the food elements they need are available in highest concentration except perhaps for iron, zinc and copper, which are usually present in large enough amounts for normal growth.

Only those which require an acid soil (rhododendrons and blueberries for example) usually require a lower soil pH.

Here, then, is a key to better plant growth – keep the soil pH between 6.0 and 6.9 and keep up the organic content.






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