Throughout the year, we take several calls from gardeners and farmers who are baffled at the slow growth of their crops or how stunted the crop is. Soil testing is almost always the recommendation, it’s $8 per sample and helps to understand the nutrient content of the soil and most importantly, the soil pH.
It sounds like something from high school chemistry; however, soil acidity is an important factor for home gardens and production farms. The acidity of the local soil is a chemical factor that affects crop growth and development. Soil pH is the measure of hydrogen ion activity in the soil. This is where the chemistry part comes in to play. pH is measured on a scale of 0 to 14. Anything below 7 is considered acidic, the lower the number the more acidic it is. For example, lemon juice has a pH of 2 and battery acid is a 0. Anything above 7 is a base (or alkaline if we’re being technical), examples being baking soda at 9 and household bleach at 13. 7 is considered neutral, water being the most common example of a neutral item on the scale.
What this breaks down to is the availability of nutrients in the soil that plants need to grow and mature as well as microbial activity in the soil. For example, if your soil pH is 5.0, this means that the hydrogen ion activity is preventing plant roots from absorbing important nutrients such as nitrogen and potassium. Correcting soil pH is a relatively straight forward process. Spreading lime can increase the soil acidity and adding sulfur can decrease it. Before spreading however, it is important to have conducted a soil test through the extension office. Each soil test can provide different recommendations based on what crops you wish to grow in an area as some crops require different pH levels to thrive.
For more information on soil testing contact the Jackson County Extension Office (firstname.lastname@example.org) at 706-367-6344 or visit their location at 255 Curtis H. Spence dr. in Jefferson. Jackson County Extension is a unit of the University of Georgia, College of Agriculture and Environmental Science.