Soil Testing 101
If you have problems getting plants to grow and perform as they should in spite of using plenty of fertilizer and lots of tender loving care, something may be wrong with your soil’s pH. You must know the pH of your soil before you know if the plant food you're using contains the right combination of nutrients. Otherwise, you're wasting your money.
Now is the time to test your soil and get it ready for the spring. There are several tests that can be done on soil, but by far the most important is the one for acidity. Rain is slightly acid and gradually makes your soil more acid. This may be good for hydrangeas and rhododendrons, but it’s bad for most other plants.
Scientists measure acid in pH numbers – any number below 7 is acid and any number above 7 is alkaline. Most flowers and vegetables grow best in slightly acid soil with a pH number between 6 and 7. By the way, pH stands for potential hydrogen.
Serious gardeners can be conscientious about compost, mulch and fertilizers, and then completely neglect to check the pH of their soil. Rapitest is one of the best-known names in the soil testing market, and you can easily use one of their soil testers to determine the pH and other properties of your soil.
There are several home testing kits or instruments available to check the soil yourself. The quickest and simplest method of is to use the Rapitest Electronic Soil Tester for readings in less than one minute.
Rapitest makes a range of soil testers in every price range and for many different types of soil analysis. The kits are inexpensive and simple to use. Most kits come with chemicals necessary to perform several tests over more than one growing season and have readily available refills.
Soil checks should be done annually because conditions occur which can change the soil analysis. For example, lime is easily leached from cultivated soils. Excessive use of peat moss, pine needles or oak leaves may make the soil more acid. Too many wood ashes in the garden could make the soil too alkaline for many crops.
After having your soil tested, you may need to reduce the acid level. This is done very easily by adding lime. The amount of lime required is indicated on a chart included in the testing kit. Clay soils need more lime than sandy soils. Lime helps to break down organic matter in the soil, and for this reason lime and manure should never be applied at the same time. Organic gardeners can use lime because it’s a natural product. Lime consists of powdered rock formed from the shells of sea creatures that lived millions of years ago.
Today, when food and crops are so important, when the landscape is an important part of the market value of a home and when maintenance of plant materials becomes a costly investment, it pays to know the acid alkaline balance of your soil and to correct it if necessary.