What’s a pH?

Soil pH influences plant growth and can make our break a garden.  My intention is to highlight what I believe is of the greatest practical importance to the home gardener.

The pH of your garden’s soil is a numerical value which indicates its potential hydrogen ion concentration.  For garden soils, the typical range in values might be between pH 5.0 (more acidic) to 8.5 (more basic).  As you’ll recall, a pH 7 is neutral and this is typically the value for drinking water.

The soil’s pH is something every gardener should know before planting a garden.  The reason being that many soil nutrients (e.g., nitrogen, phosphorous, magnesium, etc.) are more readily available to plants in the range of pH 5.8 – pH 7.5.  In other words, if your soil’s pH is below 5.5 or higher than 7.8, the availability of plant nutrients decreases. Hence, nutrients become less soluble and/or bound to the soil media. Of course, this is a generalization since each nutrient behaves somewhat differently in relation to pH.

If you are about to establish a garden in new (unknown) ground, it will behoove you to have a soil test conducted before you do anything else.  You can typically do this via a county extension agent, a local (private) environmental laboratory or a university soil testing laboratory.  Fortunately, for Boone County (MO) gardeners, we have access to two laboratories who provide excellent testing services. I’ve listed these below.

The first reference is for a private lab located in Fayette, MO. This is a pleasant drive from Columbia and their company name is Inovatia Laboratories, LLC.

Inovatia Laboratories, LLC

The second reference is for the Soil and Plant Testing Laboratory located on the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus.

  • 1100 University Avenue
  • Mumford Hall – Room 23
  • Columbia, MO 65211
  • Phone: 573-882-0623
  • Fax: 573-884-4288

In summary, by knowing your soil’s pH and its nutrient profile, you’ll be able to successfully amend your soil so that it’ll be more suitable for the growth of fruit and vegetables. For more information, please visit my post on pH and Amendments.


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