SOIL PH EXPLAINED
Soil PH measurement is vital if you expect to have a healthy and green lawn from season to season. Though soil PH is generally stable, it tends to move in one direction over time. This direction is almost always negative (lower), which indicates more of an acidic condition, and when this movement exceeds certain guidelines, the consequence will be grass and plants that won't grow right or maintain themselves. They will appear stunted, easily succumb to fungus and other disease and in extreme cases, just die. The need to both monitor and maintain a proper PH is both mission critical and ever ongoing. Yet PH is often neglected. Homeowners in particular seem to pay soil PH no heed; they will fuss and fight with their turf from year to year never being able to obtain the look they want. All the fertilizer, fungicide and water can't save a yard which is out of soil PH balance. This article will explain what a healthy soil PH represents, why it is important to maintain for both grass and gardens as well as offer directions on how to adjust and correct soil PH imbalances.
Since soil PH is something that is not seen, it is very much misunderstood and often neglected. Generally the last thing one thinks about when it comes to taking care of plants, grass or gardens is the soil PH. This is wrong. It should be the first thing accessed. Without starting with the proper soil PH, all effort and energies spent gardening could be in vain. Soil PH is by far the single most important soil variable in the "growing grass and gardens" equation. Only when the Soil PH is right can the other variables become significant. One may be able to ignore soil PH initially but ultimately its impact will be felt. Think of PH as the chemical balance of the soil. When soil PH is in balance, plants and other forms of life have a chance to prosper and live healthy happy lives. Food is economically processed, medications will have a maximum positive impact and growth abounds. When soil PH is out of whack, growth will slow. Plants will not be able to utilize nitrogen and other food properly. Ultimately, the very process of photosynthesis will be adversely affected to such a degree that plants will weaken and die. They will give way to fungus and other disease. Worse is the fact that fungicide treatments will fail in large part to the out of whack soil PH. As soil PH gets out of balance, local plants will work harder and harder yet produce less and less. Mold, mushrooms, algae and moss will flourish and take over the soil. Clearly an unbalanced soil PH is the single easiest thing to correct yet the average gardener and weekend landscaper pays it no mind. More importantly, it is one of the least costly conditions to treat and maintain and when soil PH is at its right level, plants will be able to function both efficiently and effectively. This "functioning in harmony" with its soil tends to lower maintenance and food costs which provide even more cost reduction. Yet soil PH is still largely ignored and misunderstood. Hopefully this article will help explain just how important soil PH should be to anyone that wants to grow plants.
As stated above, proper soil PH balance is critical if one expects to grow grass, plants, shrubs or flowers. Though some plants will prefer acidic or alkaline balances, the vast majority of turf which is utilized around the world requires a somewhat neutral balance. This balance is considered equal when the measurable soil PH scores a "7.0" on the PH scale. In order to know the PH of soil, one needs to use a PH measuring device. The SOIL PH METER measures soil PH quickly and fairly accurately. If you grow anything from grass to flowers, you MUST have a soil PH Meter. More importantly, you must use it at least twice a year. Keep a journal and record your test results. Over time you will see a pattern emerge which, once identified, will allow you to make periodic adjustments as needed.
HOW TO MEASURE SOIL PH
Once you are able to measure your local soil PH with a good ph meter, do so in all areas where you intend to grow something. Such areas include dirt for grass, flowers, shrubs, trees and vegetable gardens. It also includes flower pots and mulch islands. It is quite common for the owner of a potted plant to change the soil after every year or so because the "soil went bad". In most every case what has really happened is that key ingredients needed for growing the plant are no longer present. Most commonly missing is not fertilizer but having a balanced PH. The mere act of fertilizing tends to lower soil PH and over time – which can be a very short period of time with potted plants – this lowering is both substantial and significant. Since potted plants have such little amount of soil involved, PH can change dramatically within a few months. This same change will happen outside in the yard if one is not careful to monitor these levels.
WHAT AFFECTS SOIL PH?
Though fertilizer and the act of fertilizing tends to lower soil PH, there are many other factors all of which may contribute to a lower score. The list includes but is not limited to:
- Rain. Rain water is almost always acidic and is one of the larger contributors to a negative soil PH (remember "Acid Rain"? Well, it hasn't gone away…).
- Pine Straw. As pine straw breaks down and decomposes naturally into the soil, it releases a lot of acid by products which will leach into the dirt. This leaching will have a profound impact on local soil PH levels and yet pine straw is rarely identified as a major contributor.
- Mulching. Other mulching products like wood chips, recycled tree parts or common compost ingredients all tend to lower soil PH due to similar chemical releases like that released from pine straw.
- Thatch. The act of leaving grass clippings on your yard following a mowing lowers soil PH.
- Local Manufacturing or other businesses. In many regions of the world, particularly the industrialized countries, factories and other processing plants which discharge air and other fumes will many times be releasing acidic particles which find their way back into the local soil with the help of rain.
- Snow. Since snow is water, it commonly has a low PH like rain. Regions which experience little rain but a lot of snow wonder how they could have a lowered soil PH when in fact snow can be the culprit.
- Pets. (ONE OF THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTORS !!!) Allowing dogs, cats and other animals to defecate in your yard – particularly in gardens and sections of grass you are trying to cultivate – can have a big impact. Their excrement is very acidic and should not be released in such areas. Since the norm is to overlook such behavior because its hard to imagine such little releases could amount to anything, within a couple of years time the local soil PH will be adversely affected and require adjustment.
- Chemical treatments. Fertilizer is probably the biggest factor when it comes to chemicals that affect the local soil PH. However, many insecticides – like insect granules or fungicides – will also tend to lower this balance.
- Septic tanks. Any property which hosts a septic waste system is more likely to have soil PH trouble. Whether its the fumes or natural degradation of the waste, any property with this type of disposal system is more prone to soil PH fluctuations.
- Watering. Though most people think of water as having a high PH, it commonly is found to have a low PH and the use of either on a regular basis will have an impact on local balances. Be sure to test all water supplies you use on gardens and grass so you know in advance what kind of impact such supplies will have.
All of the variables listed above are meant to alert any property owner to the main contributors of soil PH imbalances. Any of the listed factors can singlehandedly impact local soil PH to such a degree that just growing grass could become difficult. More importantly, since all of them tend to work on soil PH in the same way, the combination of two or three of these factors together can be devastating. At this point it should be clear to anyone reading this article that soil PH is important and should be measured and maintained to keep it properly balanced. Now that soil PH significance is understood, lets look at the ways one can manipulate and maintain the soil PH level.
HOW TO RAISE A LOW SOIL PH
As stated above, soil PH tends to lower itself over time. As the author has also stated, anyone that does even the most minimal amount of yard work needs to be actively monitoring soil PH. In other words, anyone that either waters, fertilizes or maintains any plants at any time of the year inside or outside of their home or other property is someone that clearly qualifies as needing a soil PH Measuring Device. Assuming that you now have such a device and have done some measuring, its time to start interpreting the data accumulated and deciding on a course of action.
First, the current level of soil PH will vary for any given total property area. It is quite common for an area at the top of an incline to have a PH much different from an area of soil at the bottom of the incline just 50 feet away. For this reason it is suggested that sample tests be done for every 1000 sq/ft. More could be needed – especially if you have small areas which are independent of other areas – and then once measured, all the data neatly recorded for future comparisons. Though yards vary in size, 5000-10000 sq/ft of turf is a very average amount of soil for a lot of homes. That being said, the author has seen 5000 sq/ft lots which have had a PH range of 6.5 down to below 5.0. The variables and factors which influence soil PH are many and the results of initial testing never fail to surprise. Once the initial measurement is done, subsequent measurements every 6 months will then reveal traits and characteristics common for the soil which is being tested. In most cases, there will be trends and areas which will fluctuate more then other areas in the yard. Rare is it to find a 10,000 sq/ft section of soil that maintains a constant PH over the course of a year. More common for such an area would be to find most of it has moved down .5 or less with a small area having moved .5 or more. The key, if you want to be cultivating such soil, is to know the spots and areas which are more susceptible to change. Once found, adjustments can be made to them on a more frequent basis. Such areas will occur due to water flow and inclines which will be washing fertilizers, chemicals, acidic compost and other by low PH compounds to a specific spot. Many times that "one spot I can't seem to grow grass" turns out to be a trouble spot for keeping a balanced soil PH. Once again, the act of soil PH measurement becomes mission critical to fixing this problem.
The next important "work" you must do involves determining the square footage of the area you want to regulate. Most people refer to their lawn as "1/2 acre" or "1/4 acre" which is usually the size of the entire property. In other words, this is the total "lot" size and includes the house, garage, decks, driveways, walk ways and other surfaces which are not turf. If you intend on keeping your soil PH within a certain range, an exact measurement of the turf you want to control is critical and needed. Without this exact number, it is not practical to apply anything and that includes insecticide, herbicide, fungicide, fertilizer, etc. If you intend on keeping the soil PH well maintained, you will need to get out a tape measure and calculate the square footage of the turf around your property. In most cases, this will be done in sections. It is not uncommon for the average home to have 5-10 "sections" of turf. The best way to get a total is to measure each section, record the square footage for each one and keep a running total. Remember, square footage is "length x width". For example, a rectangular front yard which measures 75 feet wide by 60 feet long has a total area of 4500 sq/ft. Get such measurements for all "sections" of the property and record them in great detail. This information will become invaluable at some later time when you may have to make some subtle adjustments to certain areas. And don't rely on "walking off" the measurement. Rarely can one walk around their yard and get an accurate measurement. Take the time to use a long tape measure or better yet, a MEASURING WHEEL. This tool is easy to use and will save time and effort in the long run. Most importantly, the measurements it takes are accurate. This is critical for proper turf maintenance.
Now that you know the size of the turf you want to maintain and you know the soil PH measurement, you can decide if you need to make any PH adjustments. There are a few rules to follow regarding such adjustments.
- Its always best to make adjustments during the "off season" or the time when the plants in the soil will be slow growing. This is generally during the winter or cool season.
- There are some guidelines as to when adjustments are warranted. If your initial measurement is a 7.0, there is no need for anything to be done regardless of when the measurement is made. However, a 7.0 measurement in January followed by a 6.5 in July would mean adjustment time is near if not needed. Since its not best to adjust during the growing season, it is probably better if you wait till November or December and proceed with adjustment at that time for the example above. However, if an initial measurement of 7.0 in January was then a 6.0 in July, an adjustment will probably be needed immediately. The final decision will have to be made dependent on what type of plants are being grown in the soil, how long of a growing season is left and the how important the plant life is which is currently residing in the soil. For any soil PH measured below a 6.0, adjustment should almost always be done immediately unless this level is desired for some type of a special situation. If you are experiencing PH drops of more then 1.0 every 6 months, it will be important to get on some type of regular soil PH maintenance program throughout the year that will be pro active to insure it is kept up at acceptable levels.
PH LOWERING PRODUCTS
The most common way to adjust soil PH is with the use of Lime. Most commonly found as either or a gray or white type powder, lime measures high on the PH scale and will cancel out with the current high acidic condition of the soil. This process will "adjust" the current soil PH level and hopefully bring it more to a balanced value. There are some guidelines to follow as to how much lime should be applied based on how much of an adjustment is needed. This is not an exact science due to uncertainty regarding just how much lime will actually impact the local soil and not run off. It is further influenced by how deep the low soil PH exists in the soil combined with the uncertainty of what it is that is making the soil PH drop in the first place. If available, the use of pelletized lime is more desirable. Not only is it a cleaner material to apply then the old powdery grade, pelletized lime tends to stay where you spread it. Wind and water runoff won't affect it nearly as much as the powder grade so use the pellet if you can find it. Read the label to see just how much you should start with when spreading it but most formulations will list 40 lbs to be spread for every 1000 sq/ft that needs a +.5 PH adjustment. Most will also advise not to exceed 40 lbs per application to allow the material to settle in and mix with the soil. Make sure you either water or get a good few rain falls over the next month to help the lime breakdown and mix with the soil. Also, be sure to apply it to all areas of the yard including pine straw beds, mulch areas, flower beds and turf areas of grass.
Apply the lime monthly during the off season and be sure to measure your soil PH 4-5 weeks after applications to make sure it is rising accordingly. If you are not getting the results you want or if it during the growing season and you want immediate soil PH change, use some LIQUID LIME. This highly alkaline liquid can be sprayed out with one of our HOSE END SPRAYERS and will influence the soil PH reading quickly. Again, use it on all areas of the yard which will insure no area is missed that has a low soil PH. Water it in or time applications just before a rain to get a good "soak in" once applied. Liquid Lime is handy to use during the growing season when you find your soil PH is out of whack. Such applications are commonly needed during the hot months when it is learned that the soil PH is bad and has been allowing the grass to get a fungus or other disease. At this point, if you intend on saving the grass, Liquid Lime will be the only soil PH adjuster that can be used. It's fast acting and will many times get the level back up to where the grass can then remain healthy and strong enough to endure the stress and heat summer brings. And to better understand just how often your grass will get stressed, the use of some STRESS DETECTION GLASSES can be a real "eye opener" – no pun intended. These glasses will reveal the way your turf really feels. By filtering out the green color of most plants, Stress Detection Glasses will show healthy and happy grass or other plants as black or grey. When stressed, they will look brown, yellow or pink. Stress can be caused by disease, parasites, lack of food or lack of water. And by not keeping your soils PH balanced, plant life will be that much more vulnerable to all these factors. With Stress Glasses, you can look over turf on a regular basis and spot problems long before they fully develop. This early detection will enable you to take some defensive action before substantial damage can occur.
HOW TO LOWER HIGH PH
For those of you that live in areas where the soil PH can get a bit on the high side, you'll need to bring it back down with some Sulpher. There isn't any liquid form of this PH lowering soil additive so you'll have to use the SULFUR GRANULES. We have a 90% granule that can be added as needed. Start with using 50 lbs per 1/2 acre. Monitor results over the next month and add more if needed. Use a good GRANULE SPREADER to get them evenly distributed over your turf and regular watering will also help adjust the soil PH down.
SOIL PH CONTROL SUMMARY
Once you have accumulated some soil PH history for your garden and turf, adjustments will be easy. Most property owners will learn how much lime they need to apply, when to make the applications and where certain "hot spots" exist which need a little extra material. Most importantly, such applications will enable the applicator to keep their soil balanced and healthy for the upcoming growing season. This leads to healthier and happy plants as well as help to reduce overall maintenance and fertilizer costs. PH is clearly the foundation on which all plant life exists and if you don't start with a soil PH that is balanced, trying to grow plants, flowers or grass can be near to impossible. Be sure to take an active stance regarding local soil PH readings in any soil you use for growing plant life and you will both enjoy better success and less frustration with any form of gardening.