Soil PH for Container Gardens
If you want beautiful healthy plants that produce lots of big fruit you need to understand soil PH.
What is PH?
To understand how PH levels effect the soil lets first talk about what ph is and does.
PH is the common abbreviation of Potential Hydrogen. The PH scale is a scale that is used to determine the relative basicity and acidity of a substance. This scale shows the relative hydrogen ion in the substance.
On the PH scale a reading of 7 is considered neutral. This means that the substance is neither an acid or a base.
If you want a more scientific discussion on the topic there is a really good explanation of PH on science trends.com
So what does all this mean for a gardener?
PH scale reading is vital to gardeners because the PH levels will determine the nutrients available to the plants.
That is not to say that soil with the proper levels of PH for your plant means that your soil in nutrient rich.
It only means that whatever nutrients are in the soil are more readily available to your plant.
This chart gives you a general idea at what PH level specific nutrients are more easily released.
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The roots of your plant are designed to absorb nutrients from the soil. They can only preform this function is the soil is the right PH to release those nutrients.
Proper PH does not mean great soil!
It is important to remember that Soil PH levels are important but they alone do not indicate good soil.
For example builder’s sand have a 7.0 PH or neutral PH but it has not nutrients at all. Whereas compost came have any PH level from very from 1 to 14. Note that most fully mature compost does typically fall in the 7 range.
When you have the proper PH level and the right nutrients this will created a perfect growing environment for your plants.
How to test your PH levels
The best PH level for most vegetable gardens is 6.0 to 7.0. Check your favorite vegetables to determine the exact number for they.
Testing the soil PH is super easy. There are many different types and brands of soil ph testers on the market. A simple tester will cost you about $9. You can get very accurate high end digital testers for as much as $100.
The method of testing is as simple as putting the probes into the soil and reading the display.
You can also get an accurate test for PH levels as well as other soil conditions from your local state university. Most state university systems offer free soil testing. Contact the university to find out the details.
Now that you understand the basics of garden soil PH how can you use the information to grow the best vegetables.
First, check your PH levels.
If the levels are not correct there are easy ways to get the back in line.
How to lower soil PH in container gardens
If you test your soil and find that it has a PH level that is too high there are a couple of ways to help the soil become more acidic.
Use lemon juice
Using a small amount of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons per gallon of water, can help bring the PH level down in container plants.
When you use lemon juice remember that too much of a good thing is very bad. Don’t get lemon juice directly on the leaves because it can burn them.
Also add lemon water only once a week until the soil PH levels are good. Don’t try to make drastic changes with one watering.
Add tea or coffee ground
Used tea bags and coffee grounds will raise the acidity levels in your soil. Tea and coffee will also add many needed nutrients and elements such as magnesium, nitrogen , potassium, phosphorus and cooper.
Just lightly top dress the container with used tea or coffee then water as normal. Until you soil PH comes into the right levels it would be a great idea to recycle your daily coffee grounds by adding them when you water each day.
This method will slowly raise the PH level. This is the best way because it will not shock the plant.
However if you have very low levels you may want to raise the level faster.
Use sulfur to raise PH levels
Sulfur, which is available at garden shops, hardware stores and online, can be used to raise a low PH level very quickly. Follow the instructions on your package because sulfur burn can quickly kill your plants.
It is a good way to end a critical low PH situation when used as directed.
How to raise soil PH in container gardens
If your container soil test on the high side of the PH scale you can correct that situation by one of these methods.
Add baking soda
To raise PH levels in your container garden naturally use baking soda.
Add 1 tablespoon per gallon of water and use the mixture to water once a week.
This will raise the PH slowly which is the safest way to insure you will not shock your plants.
Use lime to raise soil PH
You can you limestone to raise the PH levels more quickly. This is commonly sold as Lime dust in garden shops and hardware stores.
Use lime with some caution in containers. A little will go along way and too much can easily damage or kill your plants. Add a tablespoon to a gallon of water. Use to give the plants a light watering.
Retest and use again as needed.
Summing up the important points of soil PH
- Test your soil with a PH meter
- Adjust the PH slowly if possible
- Use lemon juice, coffee grounds or sulfur if levels are too high
- Use baking soda or limestone if the soil levels are too low
- Retest regularly to stop a problem before it becomes critical