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Do My Own Lawn Care - What is Soil pH?

By DoMyOwn staff

In this video we will cover everything there is to know when it comes to understanding what soil pH is and how it can affect your turf. We will also go over the importance of testing the soil and some basic things you need to know to balance it all out.

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Video Transcript

Seriously, who needs crossfit, when you have yard work to do?

So about a week ago, temps were pretty high, it was feeling like spring. Things were blooming and now we're back into the highs of 50s and lows are in the 30s, the wind is blowing, and it's chilly.

I'm so ready for Spring to get here.

And as for that little bush, it was just time to make a change and get rid of it. So... I gave it the axe.

So... I got into a really good conversation with one of our Customer Service staff members about one of the videos in the series that she watched, "How to get rid of moss" and yeah as you know I've got a ton of moss on this side with the Bradford Pears and some in the backyard. And I have worked really hard to try to get it out of the yard... but it feels like an uphill battle.

If you haven't watched that video, I'll link that in the description below or you can click that little i icon at the top of the screen. It'll take you over to that video and you can watch it where I go more in detail on how to get rid of moss in the yard.

This Customer Service staff member got a phone call from a customer wanting to know how to get rid of moss in the yard and she was trying to explain to them that there's probably some other underlying issues that they have, and they need to figure out what those are.

And so our conversation kinda sparked this idea where we should kinda do a series within the Lawn Care series where we talk about some of the lawn basics and one of the very first subjects that we talked about was understanding soil pH which is what is contributing to my moss problem back here.

So let's dive into that subject: what is soil pH and how do you understand it and how it contributes to success in your yard.

So to kick this off, let's talk about pH. It's a measurement of the power of hydrogen ions and is measured on a scale of 0 to 14. 0 being extremely acidic or pure hydrochloric acid and 14 being extremely alkaline or pure sodium hydroxide. And 7 being smack dab in the middle being neutral.

Both of these extremes, either 0 or 14, are not good for plants or turf, which usually prefer somewhere between a 6 and 7.

The main elements that effect pH in the soil are Calcium, Magnesium, and Potassium and these elements by themselves tend to keep the pH more on the alkaline side.

And so soil pH is the ability of the soil to keep these elements hanging around.

Sandy soil tends to have a lower pH because of how fast water can move through it compared to clay type soils, like what we have here in Georgia.

Most fertilizers that are on the market tend to lower pH within the soil. So if you are trying to lower your pH, standard fertilizing practices using an acidic fertilizer such as Ammonium Sulfate will do the trick.

If pH gets too low, however, or gets more acidic, you're gonna have to go through and do a lime application. And if you'll remember, I did this on this side with the Bradford Pears in the backyard. I'll link that video in the description below and also that little i icon on the top of the screen.

The amount of lime that you're gonna need to change the pH is gonna vary depending on what kind of soil that you have.

Sandy soils it's a little bit easier to change the pH there because there's not as much binding sites within the soil that you have to change.

And let me make this plug right here: Don't guess at this. Don't guess where your pH level. Don't guess how much lime that you need in the yard. We recommend you perform a soil test and take that to your local extension office.

Their whole purpose is to do extensive research on this topic, so they're gonna know best.

So after testing your soil, they're gonna be able to tell you where your pH levels are at, tell you how much lime that you might need in the yard, or give you great recommendations on what kind of fertilizers to amend your soil so that your turf can thrive.

So now let's dive in some of the problems that you're gonna be faced with if you soil pH is one of the two extremes: either really acidic or really alkaline.

Generally speaking, if your soil pH is really high, you're gonna be faced with some bacteria problems. And if your soil pH is really low, you'll be faced with some fungus problems. So it's no surprise that if your soil pH is between that 6 and 7, you're really not gonna have any problems on your hands. So let's get into the specifics of acidic vs. alkaline.

So first up, acidic soils. Acidic soils are gonna have a pH between 0 and 7 on the pH scale, and these type of soils are going to be found in areas with lots of rain. When you have lots of rain, that rain water is going to leach a lot of those elements the turf needs to survive, like Calcium, Sodium, Magnesium, and Potassium out of the soil. And when that happens, that gives way for more toxic elements to move that plants and turf just simply do not prefer. For example, these types of soils tend to be really high in Iron and Aluminum oxides.

One major problem with acidic soils is microbial activity tends to drop off, which can lower Nitrogen concentration. That's not good because Nitrogen is a key plant nutrient. Organic matter decomposition by soil organisms tends to slow down. And Calcium, Magnesium, and Potassium deficiencies tend to develop in these kind of soils. And the other major problems with acidic soil is that it impacts fertility, biological activity, and plant productivity.

So now let's talk about if your soil is too alkaline or between a 7 and 14 on the pH scale. This might be due to over-liming in acidic soil or irrigating with a water that has a high alkaline content. These type of soils are pretty typical in the Western part of the United States where it's arid and dry. One of the biggest problems caused by alkaline soil is Iron Chlorosis mainly in trees and shrubs. And what that is, is yellowing of plant leaves due to an iron deficiency within the soil. And the amount of Phosphate, which is great for root development, tends to be in low supply in soils that are pretty high on the alkaline side.

One thing that's really gonna help these soil issues is to have a diversity of soil microbes. This subject might get it's own video later on in the series, but in a nutshell, if you make your soil friendlier to good microbes, it's gonna help kick the bad ones out. And if you kick the bad ones out and put the good ones in, it's gonna create a healthier environment for your turf, your plants, and your trees; and all will be right in the world.

So going back to my moss problem on this side. I've manually raked it out... I've used a power rake... I've aerated twice.. and put down an application of lime.

I've done everything I know to do, which brings up two very good points. One: It takes time and a lot of product to change the pH value by one point. And two, I've got bigger issues that I'm tackling back here. I've already pointed out that all the trees in the jungle back here really shade this part of the yard and the yard slopes, like this, all the water drains into the middle and it doesn't really go anywhere, it just kinda drains there and collects and doesn't get out of the yard.

So I've got a water buildup collection that's attributing to the moss problem. So what I'm trying to get at here is there's not one solution to the problem. It might take a few different solutions to fix the issues that you're having in the yard. And soil pH, getting that under control and where it needs to be for the turf to thrive, is part of it.

So that my friends, is soil pH in a nutshell. I hope it helped you out.

So hopefully when you go to do a soil test and you send it in to your local extension office and they give you a piece of paper back talking about too acidic or two alkaline -- You've got these numbers on there. You can kinda understand what they're talking about.

So question back to all of you: What do you think of us going through a touching on some of these Lawn Basics? Sound off in the comments below.

Like I said, I hope this helped you out. If you have any other further questions, leave those in the comments section below as well, email our Customer Service staff, or pick up the phone and give us a call.

And if you're not already, click this button to subscribe to the channel. You can click this playlist to see all the videos in the Do My Own Lawn Care series.

And click this playlist to see all the videos in the Do My Own Gardening Series. And as always, Thanks for watching!