pH Tests – Not Always Needed

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If you suspect your soil could be contaminated, have it tested professionally. Is there suspicious runoff, or previous applications of sewage sludge, or some other unknown material?

However, if you grow in small areas such as raised beds and containers, and don’t have worries about the safety of the soil, we suggest you skip the testing and concentrate on creating a balanced environment where nutrients can easily be absorbed by your plants and water can drain properly.

That’s right, we recommend you not purchase pH home testing kits, or spend the time and money preparing samples for professional pH analysis done by a lab.

Why don’t we use pH tests when it seems every Internet article and gardening expert insists that we should get our soil tested?

Most of us can grow vegetables, herbs and fruit successfully without spending a dime or the time on soil testing. Here’s why:

Five Reasons to Pass on pH

  1. For many home gardeners, soil testing is not practical. We do not have massive garden plots or the desire to fool around with powdered lime or sulfur. We have a small or medium-sized garden, a couple of raised beds, or we garden solely in containers because we have a busy lifestyle, lack the quality soil or simple don’t have the real estate to spread out.
  2. pH is more than a number. pH is an indicator of not only how acidic or alkaline the soil is but more importantly it tells you how available certain nutrients are to your plants. Some laboratories may supply you with a report listing your soil’s deficiencies and recommendations for applying synthetic soil amendments to change pH by pounds and square feet. Will you follow through? To use the pH scale properly, you need to take the time to understand the pH scale and how to take action based on the readings.
  3. pH testing is not a one-time event. You test, figure out what to add to the soil, wait for the amendments to change soil chemistry and test again later.
  4. pH is not an exact science. pH readings are often used as a “license to lime” or a “summons to sulfur”. Be careful because over applying lime or sulfur may do more harm than good in the long run. DIY tests you buy at home improvement centers are known to be inaccurate and certainly do not take your native soil, location or weather conditions into consideration.
  5. pH can be balanced with compost. The most compelling reason of all! The pH scale runs from 0.0 (most acid) to 14.0 (most alkaline) with 7.0 being neutral. Most plants can grow well in a soil with a pH rating of 6.0-7.0. The primary nutrients that plants need (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulfur) are widely available at a pH range of 6.0-7.0. If you amend your soil with a well-balanced compost, your pH has a good chance of balancing out to the magic range of 6.0-7.0.

Fooling around with test strips, adding amendments and testing again is not a haphazard job – and for us it’s unnecessary. I can achieve a fairly pH balanced soil with compost.