Good Gardening is All About the Base
Soil is an important part in growing healthy plants. It is the foundation for a plant, so it has to have the right balance.
Checking the pH and keeping it at the correct level will directly impact a plant’s ability to take up nutrients, as well as affect the soil’s conditions.
A plant absorbs nutrients through its root system. If the soil is too acidic or alkaline the nutrients will not easily dissolve making it difficult for the plant to get the nutrients it needs.
Sometimes you may notice yellowing between the green veins of young leaves, this is an indicator of a lack of iron, which can be caused by the pH level in the soil and the plant’s inability to absorb the iron from the soil. It doesn’t matter how many nutrients are in the soil, if the pH levels are not correct, the plants will not be able to get the nutrients it needs to grow healthy.
What is pH? It stands for ‘potenz Hydrogen’. It is the measure of how acidic or alkaline a substance is. It is measured on a scale from 0 to 14 with 7 being neutral. The scale goes up logarithmically in powers of 10. Any measure that reads below 7 is considered acidic or sour and above 7 it alkaline or sweet.
Most plants thrive in slightly acidic soil around 6.0-6.5. There are a few plants such as blueberries azaleas, rhododendrons and potatoes, that prefer a slightly higher acid soil.
There are different factors that can affect the pH. Types of vegetation, the amount of rainfall and temperature can have an influence on the soil’s pH. Heavily forested areas that receive a lot of rain tend to have a slightly higher acidic soil, whereas areas that are quite arid tend to have an alkaline soil.
Before you decide to change a soil’s pH, do a pH test. There are inexpensive, easy to use pH test kits available at the garden centre. To get a good soil sample, dig down 10-15 cm into the soil and get a small scoop of soil. This is placed in the tube of the soil test kit. Follow the instructions on the kit. The colour chart will give you a good idea of the pH level. From there you will know whether you have to change the pH.
If the soil is acidic, lime such as dolapril lime, an easy to apply lime, is most commonly used to raise the pH. It is very important to know and follow the directions given on the bag before mixing the lime into the soil.
Alkaline soil is corrected by mixing sulfur (available at the garden centre)into the soil. Peat moss and compost mixed into the soil, can also help acidify the soil.
The pH of the soil should be tested every 2-3 years as it can change. Having the correct pH level in the soil not only helps the plants but also helps the organisms such as worms and micro organisms that live within the soil stay healthy, which in turn is good for the soil. Doing a simple pH test before you work the soil in the garden this spring could reap benefits in the future.
Jos Van Hage owns and operates two Art Knapp Home and Garden Centres in Prince George:
- Highway 16 West at Kimball Road
- Highway 97 North at Northwood Pulpmill Road – Closed for the season