The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio


June 23, 2013

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


How to know the pH

But how do we know for sure what our pH is, and therefore, how much lime we have, or don’t have, to add?

Simple, do a soil test.

Yes, I know, soil testing is a big pain in the rear, right?

Extra money you don’t need to spend, right? And, even if pH is too low, one can compensate by adding excess fertilizer, right?


Do it right!

Pay attention here folks, get a soil test, not a slurry kit or a probe, but the kind that requires you to dig up some dirt and send it off to a lab, and if you’re planting more than one food plot get one for each plot you are planning on planting. Test kits generally cost around $15-$20, including the lab analysis fee.

Chances are you will more than make that back in lime and fertilizer savings compared to what you’ll have to apply to be sure you cover the bases without the test. Also, adding excess fertilizer won’t make up for inadequate pH.

Remember our earlier analogy, if soil pH is too low, it doesn’t matter how much food is on the table (fertilizer is in the ground) because we (the plants) can’t get it into our bodies if our jaws are wired shut (soil pH is too low).

Important info

The most important things the soil test will tell you are the pH of, and the phosphorous and potassium levels in, your soil. With just that information, you can tailor the lime and fertilizer blend to reach adequate soil conditions.

If you have trouble reading your soil test results, call the company that made the plot mix or call your local county extension agent. The company should have a consultant readily available to help you understand the recommendations in the report. If you can’t get them on the phone, or if they can’t help explain your soil test results to you, then next time buy from someone who takes customer service seriously.  

Soil test kits are available directly from Ag Universities, your local soil and water conservation service and some farm supply stores.

Again, be sure the kit you use requires that soil be sent to a lab for testing and is not a probe or slurry-type kit. Once you get the results just follow the recommended amounts of lime as well as the type and amounts of fertilizer and your plantings may just be knee high by the fourth of July.           

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