A good soil pH tester is an essential addition to every gardener’s tool box, since seeds planted in even the healthiest looking soil won’t grow well (or at all) in soil that is too acidic or too alkaline.
While most garden plants prefer a soil pH between 5.5 and 7.5, a few like it more acidic including azaleas, blueberries, potatoes and rhododendrons.
Soil pH is a sliding scale ranging from 1 to 14 that indicates how acidic or alkaline your soil is. One to 6.9 is acidic (with one being the highest level of acidity), 7 is neutral and 7.1 to 14 is alkaline (with 14 being the most alkaline).
In more simplistic terms, soil pH is the measure of lime in your soil. The more lime it has, the more alkaline it is. The less lime it has, as in the case of very sandy soil, the more acidic it will be.
Plants need soil nutrients in order to grow and thrive. Those nutrients are only available to plants when they are dissolved in water which serves both to break down the nutrients into a small enough size for absorption and as medium for nutrient transfer (see Why Do Plants Need Water? for more information).
If your soil pH is either too acidic or too alkaline, most soil nutrients will not dissolve and therefore not be absorbed by the plant.
A healthy plant growing in nutrient-rich soil with an optimal plant-specific pH level will not only grow faster and fuller and provide a more nutritious harvest, it will also be much more able to fend off pests and disease.
Each plant has a preferred soil pH range (as indicated on the plant-specific pages throughout GrowingAnything.com), and your goal should be to keep each plant’s soil within 0.5 of their preferred range. If the number falls more than 0.5 outside the desired range, soil pH adjustment is in order.
Soil pH test kits also test for nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) in the soil and are relatively straightforward to use.
We like the AccuGrow Soil Test Kit, which provides enough materials to allow you to complete 10 separate tests. To test your soil’s pH with this model, simply dip the included test strips into your soil sample and the results will for pH, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium will display within minutes.
When obtaining the soil for your test…
Be sure to document your test results including your pH, N, P and K levels, the date and where in your garden the soil samples came from.
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