Understanding Soil pH Level to Grow Healthy Plants
Beautiful, Healthy Plants
Soil pH Level's Affect on Plants
In some ways, plants are like people. To grow into strong, healthy plants, they need five basic requirements for life. These requirements are air, sunlight, water, food, and the right type of environment. For a plant, the pH level is more important than people think. Not only do different plants like different soil pH levels, pH affects other factors too. Soil pH can affect nutrient availiability. For most plants, the soil needs to have a pH between 6.0 and 6.5 for nutrients to be available.
The pH scale
To understand soil pH, a basic understanding of chemistry is important. Everything in the world around us is made up of subatomic particles. An atom consists of three subatomic particles: protons, neutrons, and electrons.
A neutral atom has an equal number of protons and electrons. The protons and neutrons live in the nucleus or center of an atom while electrons fly around the nucleus. While protons have a positive charge, electrons have a negative charge.
In its pure state, water is neutral. Composed of H2O, it has two hydrogens and one oxygen. However, when other compounds are dissolved into water, the bonds of water tend to break apart. While the hydrogen ions are negative, the hdyroxyl ions are positive.
The pH scale is a logarithmic scale that measures the hdrogen and hydroxyl concentrations in an aqueous solution. It ranges from 0 to 14. Seven is neutral. Neutual means the concentration of hydrogen ions is exactly equal to hydroxide ions. While anything above seven is basic (alkaline), anything below seven is acidic. For each pH level above or below seven the pH levels increase tenfold.
pH and the Availability of Nutrients
Soil pH Level and Plant Nutrition
Plants get most of their nutrients from the soil. In fact, there are seventeen essential nutrients, and fourteen of them come from the soil. However, before a plant can utilize a mineral, it must be able to dissolve into the soil solution. Most minerals are dissolvable in neutral or slightly acidic soil. If the soil is too acidic, when minerals dissolve, it can increase the concentration of metal ions to toxic levels. On the other hand, if the soil is too alkaline, mineral deficiencies may occur because the minerals are unable to dissolve. In addition to mineral solubility, soil pH levels also affect the microrganisms that live in the soil that break down organic material. To avoid problems with most plants, the soil pH level should be between 5.5 and 7.5.
pH Levels for Different Plants
How is Soil pH Measured?
Soil pH can be measured with either a pH meter or indicator dyes. Most gardeners use indicator dyes rather than meters because the indicator dyes are less expensive. However, if you plan on taking a lot of pH tests, in the long run, it might be less expensive to buy a pH meter. When you're using indicator dyes, the soil sample is saturated with dye. The color of the sample will indicate the pH. Since the dyes are not as accurate as the meters, you might want to take several samples.
If your plants are struggling, you might want to consider testing the pH of your soil. You may think to yourself, pH doesn't matter. However, that is not true. Sometimes, even when you fertilize your plants, if the pH level is not at the right level, the fertilizer won't be available to plants.