How to Lower Soil pH

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The pH (potential of Hydrogen) of soil ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 classified as neutral, less than 7 as acidic and greater than 7 as alkaline. While there are exceptions, the ideal pH value of soil for those wishing to grow plants or crops is generally considered to be between 5.5 and 7.

If you have an alkaline soil with a pH value that exceeds 7, how do you go about lowering it such that it falls within the desired range? How you achieve this will ultimately depend on the quantity of lime that exists within the soil.

Alkaline soils explained

Soils in metropolitan environments typically become alkaline when lime exists in or has been manually introduced. Soils located along coastlines are more likely to contain lime, while inner-city locations will also have high concentrations due to the existence of cement or concrete fragments. Soils with high alkaline levels are also prevalent in barren climates as well as areas that receive more abundant amounts of rainfall.

Resolving mineral shortages in soils

The issues affecting alkaline soils and ones that possess an overabundance of lime content are caused by a lack of mineral equilibrium, rather than the pH value of the soil itself. The mineral shortages almost always concern chemical elements which only occur under specific conditions (in this case, in a range beyond the pH value of the soil).

The capacity of plants to absorb these essential elements varies depends on the species. Ones that cannot efficiently do so are typically known as ‘iron-deficient’ or geranium group plants. Such plants include Petunias, Argyranthemum, Ivy geranium and Snapdragons, to name a few, all of which struggle to flourish in lime-heavy ground material.

As mentioned earlier, ideal soil pH values are between 5.5 and 7. This is because soils in this pH range have an increased likelihood of possessing the necessary mineral elements required for plants to grow. Insoluble soils can have these elements added to the soil by chemically combining them amino acids, but this process must be performed frequently.

Decreasing soil pH

The two primary methods for that a soil testing company can use in order to reduce a soil’s pH value is by inserting chemical sulphur or chemical sulphate. 1 ounce of chemical sulphur or 10 ounces of chemical sulphate is necessary to eradicate 3.5 ounces of lime. The chemical sulphur method requires around 2 months to complete, whereas the sulphate version occurs almost instantaneously.

Identifying if the soil is plain alkaline or an alkaline and calcium carbonate mixture

Prior to lowering a soil’s pH value, it must first be concluded if the soil is plain alkaline or a combination of alkaline and calcium carbonate, with the latter requiring significantly more time to stabilise. A professional soil analysis will determine this and indicate the quantity of chemical sulphur or sulphate required. In some cases, alkaline/calcium carbonate soils can contain upwards of 5% lime, rendering it unsuitable for pH stabilisation. In a metropolitan area, expenses aren’t prohibitive, but nullifying a few percent lime from three square feet of covering soil 8 inches deep will require around 4.5 lbs chemical sulphur or 37 lbs of chemical sulphate. Adding such a large quantity to the soil will invariably annihilate all the plant life, so this must be performed over a much longer period of time (5 years or so).

If only minor quantities of lime need to be removed, small amounts of chemical sulphate (3.5 ounces per 3 ft2 max) until all signs of iron scarcity has disappeared. If, however, sizeable volumes of lime are required to be wiped out, then a soil testing firm should always be consulted. This will ensure that the right amount of chemical additives are inserted at the required rate.

Routine soil tests

It’s critical that routine soil testing is carried out to help provide a favourable outcome. Based on their analysis of your soil, a testing facility will be able to determine the precise quantities of chemicals to add, how regularly you need to add them and how long you’ll need to repeat the process before stabilisation is complete. Frequent tests will be able to confirm that soil pH levels are being lowered as required.

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