Is A pH Test For Soil Totally Useless?

pH Test For Soil
pH Test For Soil

I recently showed how doing a pH test for soil might actually be detrimental.

You should probably read that article before this one. Today, I will discuss if it is ever useful.

The bottom line is that keeping track of pH is not necessary in most cases.

There are times when a regular pH test for soil on intensively managed farms and gardens can give you a hint as to whether your soil is becoming more acid or alkaline because of something you’re doing, so you can know if it’s working.

For example, if you’re adding organic matter every year, the pH will tend to move towards neutral. If you’re removing grass clippings from the lawn, it may go in the opposite direction.

Or if you’re in an area with low rainfall and high pH and you’ve just installed an irrigation system, some of those minerals might slowly be leached out of the soil and your soil pH kits may show you results that slowly move toward neutral.

So mostly you might measure pH just for fun or to see if your soil management practices are effective, but the problem is how most people use the pH information.

pH Test For Soil – Here’s The Thing

We know that soil pH is determined by the amount of hydrogen and other elements in the soil, which is influenced by the kind of soil you have and how much rain you have.

Adding mineral fertilizers to influence the pH can have a small effect on this.

But soil pH kits will start to give results for you more towards neutral under organic practices when we add organic matter and small amounts of the right minerals.

Lawns and gardens don’t need lime just as a matter of course. “Lime every year” is advice often given in rainy climates because the minerals are thought to leach out of the soil. They may be leaching out of the soil, but adding more of them is not the solution. The solution is to stop them from leaching (and grow things that are used to your climate).

Chemical fertilizers cause leaching, so if you’re using those, that is part of the problem. Organic gardening is the answer. Removing grass clippings from the lawn and a general lack of organic matter in the soil causes leaching, as does imbalanced nutrient ratios leading to compaction.

We can and should find those things out, but the pH test for soil still stays largely irrelevant.

But wait, if you have a low pH and a sandier soil, should you add something to “sweeten” the soil (bring more nutrients in)? Probably, but pH doesn’t tell you what to add at all. A soil test does that.

Now that is a useful test and I will talk about that another time. In fact, I will talk about that many times on this organic gardening website.

Please feel free to ask me any questions below. This is a bit of a tricky topic and definitely different than what you will read in most gardening books.

2 Comments

  1. Sandy on November 6, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Thank you for the information. I have been told for years to do ph tests and I never understood why they were so important. Apparently they’re not. I’ll be interested to read more about soil testing when you write it.

  2. Colleen on November 8, 2018 at 3:10 pm

    I find pH testing necessary, initially, as pH has severe limitation on the range of plants that one can grow. If your soil pH is 8, there is no way you can successfully grow Azaleas or Blueberries, other than in a pot. I never really considered it as useful on a ongoing basis to monitor nutrients.

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