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How To Use Food To Describe The Range Of Ph In Soil

Jun 24, 2008
You flunked science in school. You can't pronounce all those chemical names on the fertilizer bag. You don't know the difference between nitrogen and nicotine but you want a green lawn or better looking plants.

Everyone you talk to tells you that you need to adjust your soil's "ph balance" but you simply don't understand what they're talking about.So what is this "ph balance?

First of all, don't be ashamed of being "green thumb challenged". This isn't rocket science. You can grasp the concept enough to beautify your lawn or garden even if you never understand in intimate detail how it all works.You don't need to understand internal combustion engines to be able to put the key in your car's ignition and drive do you? This is no different.

First the basics - pH is the measure of one aspect of a soil's water make-up. Chemists have their terms for it - usually alkaline or acid. But let's call it sweet (alkaline) or sour (acidic). The pH scale goes from 0 to 14. Zero means your soil is very, very sour (acidic) - like pure lemon juice! This sourness (acidic) scale decreases as the numbers on the scale get larger. As the numbers on the scale increase from 0 to 14 or any increment in between (like 5.5), the sweetness (alkalineness) of the soil increases too.

Think of the scale like a glass of fresh squeezed lemon juice. As you add water the sourness (acidity) becomes weaker and weaker until it is neutral. Then as you add sugar, it becomes sweeter (alkaline) and sweeter.

At a 7 your soil is neutral. From 8 to 14 it then becomes increasingly sweeter/more alkaline. Simple right? Okay, now are you comfortable with food? Good.Then let's use food to describe the range of pH in soil.Some wonderfully simple food terms commonly associated with certain ranges in soil pH are:

* Extremely acid: less than 4.5; lemon=2.5; vinegar=3.0; stomach acid=2.0; soda=2-4
* Very strongly acid: 4.5-5.0; beer=4.5-5.0; tomatoes=4.5
* Strongly acid: 5.1-5.5; carrots=5.0; asparagus=5.5; boric acid=5.2; cabbage=5.3
* Moderately acid: 5.6-6.0; potatoes=5.6
* Slightly acid: 6.1-6.5; salmon=6.2; cow's milk=6.5
* Neutral: 6.6-7.3; saliva=6.6-7.3; blood=7.3; shrimp=7.0

* Slightly alkaline: 7.4-7.8; eggs=7.6-7.8
* Moderately alkaline: 7.9-8.4; sea water=8.2; sodium bicarbonate=8.4
* Strongly alkaline: 8.5-9.0; borax=9.0
* Very strongly alkaline: more than 9.1; milk of magnesia=10.5, ammonia=11.1; lime=12

Keep in mind that your plants, like your kids or yourself, prefer either sweet things or sour things.You may like sugar in your iced tea. Your kids may love those sour gummy candy treats. Ugh. Well, your plants are no different. Some plants, like blueberries and azaleas, love sour (acidic) stuff. Lilacs however like a sweeter (alkaline) soil. Most plants, like most people, prefer a neutral range of pH is somewhere in the 6.2 to 7.0 range, or the "milk, potatoes and fish" range on our food scale.

The only real thing you need to know is what kind of soil pH the plants you want to grow prefer.You can find that out by asking your local garden shop or by looking at the tags often placed on the plant with the name, growing zone and price of the plant.

Plant your bush, shrub, tree or flower in soil compatible with its tastes and make sure the soil maintains that pH and you'll look like a master gardener! But how do you test your soil's pH? You can buy a kit at any garden center or you do the basic home "taste test". Don't worry. This is chemistry so easy your kids can do it.

To determine if your soil is sweet (alkaline) or sour (acidic) simply get a tablespoon of soil you want to test. Next, add a few drops of vinegar to the soil.If it fizzes your soil's pH is greater than 7.5 - meaning it is sweet (alkaline). If it doesn't fizz, use another tablespoon of soil and make sure it is moist - but not wet. Now, add a pinch of baking soda to it. If it fizzes, your soil's pH is less than 5.0.If you get nothing from either test then your soil is in that wonderful neutral zone and just about anything you plant should be happy!

So why do gardeners and farmers talk about pH so much? Because if a soil's pH solution is too sour (acidic) plants won't be able to utilize the nutrients they need. If soil is too sour (acidic) plants will also tend to take up more toxic metals (from rainfall, the application of sewage sludge to fields in the case of farmers etc) out of the soil and eventually die of toxicity(poisoning).

Herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and other chemicals are used on and around plants to fight off plant diseases and get rid of bugs won't work in soil that is too sour (acid) either.

Soil with a pH from 5.5 and up also allows plants to get access to nutrients that help them fight off bacteria as well as allow them to grow. And basically that's what soil pH is and why it's important to farmers and gardeners.See? That wasn't so hard now was it!
About the Author
Find out how even those who are "green thumb challenged" can create a lawn the envy of friends and neighbours. Visit http://www.lawnperfection.com
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