Soil pH Testing: What does it tell me?

Why do I need a soil pH test?

We have completed hundreds of soil pH tests over the past few years at our office and this questions usually comes up.  Here are some ideas of what soil pH testing will and won’t tell you.

What it tells you:
  • Your Soil pH- Soil pH is the measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a soil on a scale of 1-14.  A 7.0 pH level is considered neutral with anything lower than 7.0 being more acidic and anything above 7.0 being alkaline (also known as basic).  If soil pH is too high or too low for a plant, you can see nutrient deficiencies.  This is because certain nutrients become unavailable at different pH levels as seen in the diagram on the left.  For more information on getting your pH tested in Clay County go here.
  • What Plants May Work: Many plants have desired soil pH ranges where they do best and trying to get an acid loving plant to be successful in an alkaline soil is tough.  By knowing your pH you can match the best turfgrass to your site, know where you can put acid loving plants like blueberries and azaleas, and sometimes find out
  • Do I Need Lime: Soil pH testing is key, especially before you apply any lime to the site.  For most of our tests, the answer is do not lime because our soils tend to be naturally closer to neutral or even basic for much of the county (other than Keystone Heights and other areas in pineland ecosystems) so liming before testing should never be done.  Lime works to raise your pH when it is too acidic and raising it too far is extremely difficult to reverse.
  • Do I Need Sulfur:  If your pH is too high, correction is difficult but we can help you figure out if adding organic matter to your soil or applying elemental sulfur will help.  These can help lower pH but it is usually not permanent.
What it does not tell you:
  • Why a plant is dead- Soil pH issues are rarely severe enough to cause plant death but can be a contributing factor.  If your turfgrass looks bad or your trees are dying, something else is likely going on.  Knowing your pH is important but we can help you find an answer as to why your landscape is having problems.  Plant samples, images sent by email, and descriptions of your plant as well as how it is being cared for are key.
  • How to fertilize- Soil pH testing only tells you pH, not your soils nutrient levels.  The University of Florida offers soil testing but you have to mail in samples.  We have forms at our office and they can be found here.  Soil pH and lime requirement tests cost $3 through the University and soil nutrients along with pH costs $7.

Soil Testing is key for any good landscape or vegetable garden and we are here to help.  If you are a Clay County resident and want your soil tested, bring your sample to to our office at 2463 SR16W  Green Cove Springs, FL  32043 (On the corner of 16 and Springbank road, in front of the fairgrounds.  Information on how to prepare your sample can be found here.  If you have any questions, call us at (904)284-6355 or email me at whhobbs@ufl.edu.