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
  • Sam Going strong!

    Back on track... and still alive and kicking, er, hitting!

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • 18U Outlaws split first two

    A stirring rally in their last at-bat allowed the Ohio Outlaws 18-and-under squad to prevail in its first game at the Eastern National Tournament on Thursday in Sterling, Va.

    August 1, 2014

  • UMC rolls to church title

    The Andover United Methodist Church co-ed softball team capped a successful season by applying the basics. Timely hitting and solid defense both came into play as they polished off the losers’ bracket winner, New Life Fire of Geneva, 10-4, to claim the Ashtabula Church Co-ed Softball League — Thursday Massucci Division championship.

    August 1, 2014

  • Indians Mariners sink Tribe

    Another difficult day on the trade front ended with a disappointing loss for the Cleveland Indians.

    August 1, 2014 2 Photos

  • Taylor Outlaws edged by a run

    The slimmest of margins proved to be the difference in determining the outcome of a clash between the Ohio Outlaws Gold and the Virginia Shamrocks in the USA-ASA 16-and-under Nationals on Wednesday in Salem, Va.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Olivia-smile A Don McCormack column: Holt right at home at Mount

    When a young person from this area goes off to college and continues to play sports at the next level, we do feature stories on them.

    July 31, 2014 2 Photos

  • Twin State Night at Raceway 7 next

    This week is the annual Twin State Club night at Raceway 7. Regular racing will be presented in all five divisions. With the points races nearing their conclusion the racing will be hot as August weather Friday night.

    July 31, 2014

  • Tribe Kluber twirls gem

    “The ace is gone. Long live the ace.” That’s how Indians fans might be looking at matters today.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • SB1 Let’s play another

    It pays to have the right hitters at the plate at the right time.

    July 30, 2014 2 Photos

  • Outlaws roll again

    They may be Outlaws by name, but the Northeast Ohio-based Ohio Outlaws Gold are certainly running with the in crowd at the USA-ASA 16-and-under Nationals in Salem, Va.

    July 30, 2014

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