The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio


June 23, 2013

Outdoors Insider, with Dale Sunderlin: What exactly is soil pH?

The last couple of columns have addressed food plots, liming, fertilizer, planting and the all-infamous pH levels.

Most people understand the several steps involved in prepping the soil but when it comes to the pH level new bees to the food plot process seem to get lost and usually ask, “What exactly is soil pH, and why is it such a big deal?”

I know I did and for that matter, I still don’t fully understand it, but I know one thing for sure, if it’s not right, your plantings, no matter what it is, just are not going to grow to it’s full potential.  

Thankfully, the answer is relatively simple if the person giving the explanation does not unnecessarily overcomplicate it. I have asked the question of experts at outdoor shows I’ve attended, and while some field it well, others seem more concerned with their egos than with educating others.

The latter reveal themselves rather quickly with scenarios like the following:

An ‘expert’s’ opinion

Myself and a group of hunting buddies approached a booth at an outdoor show, the deer and turkey show in Columbus, and one of the group, usually me, asks the resident “expert,” “By the way, everyone keeps saying that soil pH is so important. What exactly is soil pH?”

In response, the “expert” puffed himself up and says, “Well, pH is a measure of soil acidity!”

The hunter, being myself, exhibits the reaction most common to such answers, a glassy-eyed stare. Sensing an opportunity to demonstrate his expertise, the “expert” continues, “Well, let me try to put it in terms you can understand. pH is a measurement scale from 1-14, with the lower numbers being more acidic and the higher more alkaline.”

Daaa, what’d he say

Now, we deer hunters hate to show weakness in front of our buddies; and so rather than look even dumber in front of my fellow hunters, I just looked at nodded at the “expert,” said no more, and left not knowing any more than I did before the encounter.

The scenario didn’t have to end that way. The “expert” could have done my buds and me a great service and probably locked in a customer to boot, had he been less concerned with his own image and more with educating others.

So, being honest, my question was still, what the heck is soil pH? Or better yet, what does pH mean to us regular folk who are planning on planting a food plot for deer?


Simple terms

Now since then, I’ve done as much research as I can on it and this is the best I can come up with. For our purposes, soil pH is nothing more than an indicator of how well a plant can get nutrients out of the soil in which it is growing.

That’s it.

It’s nothing more complicated than that.

Plants are like any other living thing in that they thrive in a limited range of environmental conditions. Different plants have different soil-pH ranges in which they are best able to get nutrients out of the soil. Some plants, for example some garden ornamentals, do best in relatively acidic soil, say a pH of 4-5. Not so with most deer-plot plants.

The numbers vary a bit depending on who you talk to and the brand of seed you use but generally most deer-plot plants are best able to get nutrients out of the soil when the pH is around 6.5-7.5, which some refer to as “neutral pH,” basically, in the middles of the 1 to 14 range.

Text Only
  • run VanHoy racing on

    Geneva track star Hailey VanHoy had a near unbelievable run of success during her final months running for the Eagles.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Danielle Zip-ing along

    Just minutes after Geneva’s Danielle Nicholson holed out on the 18th green at the Gray Course at Ohio State University during her freshman year to win the 2011 Division I state championship, the recruitment process of where she would go to college began.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Maruna headed for Mount

    LeeAnn Maruna never really expected to play collegiate golf. She was so taken aback when the opportunity presented itself, she didn’t know how to respond. After all, the Grand Valley graduate had only been playing the game for a few years.

    July 23, 2014

  • Crate Late Models featured

    The Evergreen Lake Park Campground Crate Late Models, the premier class at Raceway 7, will be featured Friday night as they race for $1,000 to win.

    July 23, 2014

  • Norm He’s the Norm

    In the early part of the 20th century, as golf was taking off in popularity, it was not uncommon for boys to take up the game after becoming caddies.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Don A Don McCormack column: The journey is what’s most important

    Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past couple of weeks, you’ve heard over and over and over how it’s been a half-century since one of Cleveland’s big three professional sports teams have won a championship.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Murdick wins as Big Block Modifieds return

    The BRP Big Block Modifed Tour returned to Raceway 7 with 21 of the region’s fastest Modifieds turning out for the scheduled 35-lap event, the first for the Modifieds at the northeast Ohio speedplant since 2005, an event won by Todd Burley.

    July 21, 2014

  • Dale Outdoors Insider, with Dale Sunderlin: Chances for controlled waterfowl hunting

    Waterfowl hunters are invited to participate in special drawings for controlled hunting opportunities, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), Division of Wildlife. The drawing dates and times are as follows:

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Kingsville gets it done

    In a rematch of a previous softball clash between the Kingsville 9-10-year-olds and those from Conneaut, Kingsville had settled thing quickly and decisively in a mercy-rule triumph.

    July 20, 2014

  • TD Club golf A Chris Larick column: TD Club hopes to score

    Though its life was never seriously threatened, the Ashtabula County Touchdown Club has suffered in recent years.

    July 20, 2014 2 Photos

Little League All-Stars July 1 to 12
AP NASCAR Lastest News
AP NASCAR Sprint Cup Schedule
AP NASCAR Sprint Cup Standings
AP Auto Racing Photos
West Side Shootout 2014
Ashtabula County at State Track Meet
Jefferson vs Akron St. Vincent St. Mary Regional Softball
District Track 2014
Jefferson District Softball Tournament
Bob Walters 50 Years
Geneva vs Perry Division II District Semifinal
Sports Week in Review May 12 to May 17
Sports Week in Review May 5 to May 10 2014
Sports Week in Review April 28 to May 3
Sports Video Archive
House Ads
AP Video