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All About Soil pH in Your Garden

pH, which stands for potential for hydrogen ion concentration, is a measure of acidity or alkalinity. The pH scale goes from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is neutral, any number under 7 is acidic, and any number over 7 is alkaline. The pH of your soil is important to the health of your plants. If your soil is too acidic or too alkaline for your plants they will have difficulty getting nutrients from the soil, even if the nutrients are plentiful in the soil.

There are wide array of soil testers on the market. Some have metal probes that you poke into your soil, with a meter for you to read at the top of the probe. Other testers are kits with different pH sensitive testing liquids or papers, which will change color for you to compare to a chart. Finally, if your state's agriculture extension office offers a soil testing service, you can send them some soil samples from your garden for thorough test results. Many of these soil tests will give you information beyond pH, such as the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in the soil.

If you have acidic or alkaline soil there are remedies. Typically, gardeners will add lime to make soil less acidic. I like to use the pelletized form, which is diffused much more slowly into the soil than the powdered form. Soil can be made less alkaline by adding decayed plant matter, compost, or manure. Apparently, the common myth that gypsum (Calcium sulfate) will acidify soil is not correct. However, gypsum may help break up hard soils.

Pelletized Gypsum

ABOVE: Pelletized Gypsum

Besides adjusting your soil pH, you can select plants that do well with the soil you have. Many plants do prefer soil which is either more acidic or more alkaline. A few plants that prefer acidic soils are azaleas, orchids, blueberries, tomatoes, conifers, and ferns. A few plants that prefer alkaline soils are aloe, ficus, sempervivum, chrysanthemum, and clematis.

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