The lone voice of horticultural reason

Don’t purchase and use those do-it-yourself pH kits sold at nurseries and hardware stores.

Knowing the pH of your soil is important, particularly if you’re having a problem with plants not growing properly. My advice is, if you’re sticking plants in the ground and they seem to grow fine, you scan skip a soil test – at least until some years down the road when you’re growing plants a bit outside the norm, plants that really depend on a particular pH range.

But if you’re just starting out, have a new property, or, again, plants don’t seem to grow well for you, getting a soil test is essential. The easiest and least expensive option is to buy a do-it-yourself soil pH testing kit. You’re other option is to collect a soil sample and mail it to (or drop it off at) your nearest university’s extension service office or their soil lab.

Opt for the latter. Soil pH kits available at stores and online vary in accuracy, and pH is all you’ll get. You just spent fourteen bucks, at least, and for that amount or a little more, you could have had a complete laboratory soil test. You would have received a report giving you the exact pH level of your soil, plus the natural phosphorus and potassium levels and the percentage of organic content. All very important stuff to know.

You can now buy “complete” do-it-yourself soil testing kits that also purport to give you phosphorus and potassium levels, and even if accurate, what you will get ONLY with a laboratory soil test is complete recommendations on what amendments and fertilizer combinations are needed to grow healthy plants. Plus you’ll be able to phone or e-mail the lab if you have any questions.

Incidentally, the probe-type pH meters – in which you simply insert the steel probe into the soil, and the pH registers on a meter – are inaccurate to the point of being worthless.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener