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pH Levels in Soils and Soil Testing


Spoil testing with a soil probe.Gardeners boasting state-fair-sized flowers and growers with consistently healthy row crops rely on more than sunshine, water and a green thumb to keep their plants healthy; they know that one secret to success lies with an annual soil test.

Where to find a soil test kit?

A soil test can be acquired at your local Southern States store. Simply stop in and ask one of our team members for a soil sampling kit - and feel free to ask questions. Our knowledgeable staff will help walk you through what you’ll need to do. Soil kits give you the information you’ll need to get started. Once your soil test is complete, you’ll have a full recommendation on what to do to get your lawn or garden growing great!

Testing Your Soil

According to the Clemson University Cooperative Extension program, gardeners should test their soil once each year, ideally in the fall or at least two months before planting to allow time for any necessary lime or other recommended amendments to react with the soil. Accurate results depend on adhering to proper soil testing methods. Follow these guidelines for an accurate soil reading:

  1. Use clean tools with no soil residue. Stainless steel or chrome-plated soil probe, hand garden trowel, shovel or spade work best. Avoid using brass, bronze or galvanized tools, as they will contaminate samples with copper and/or zinc. 
  2. On a day when your soil isn’t too wet or too dry, divide your landscape into functional areas (i.e.: vegetable garden, lawn, flower bed and the area closest to your house) and sample those areas individually.
  3. Gather at least 10 subsamples from each functional area. Mix the subsamples together in a clean bucket to yield a representative soil sample. The representative soil sample should be at least 2 cups.
  4. Collect soil from the appropriate depths. For established lawns, sample soil 2-4 inches from the ground. Soil from vegetable and flower gardens should be 6-8 inches below ground or the tillage depth. And around trees and shrubs, soil should be collected 6 inches below ground. 

Analyzing the Results

When you’re all done, bring in your soil sample to your local Southern States.  We’ll ship the soil to a lab which then will analyze your results and provide a soil care recommendation, complete with products and application details. A Southern States team member will be glad to review your personalized plan with you—as well as answer any questions you might have.

Solu-Lime BagYour soil test results reveal a few key facts. In addition to indicating the actual pH value, it shows how acidic or basic your soil is and recommends the necessary amount of fertilizer or lime (if needed) per 1,000 square feet that should be added to keep your plants healthy.

The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14. If your soil has a pH less than 7, it is more acidic, while numbers greater than 7 indicate alkaline soil. Azaleas, rhododendrons, blueberries and conifers thrive in acid soils with pH levels around 5, whereas vegetables, grasses and ornamentals prefer only slightly acidic soils, with a pH ranging from 5.8 to 6.5.

If your soil is too acidic, you may need a limestone application. Specific lime requirements (often referred to as LR) are based on each plant’s needs. Lime requirements generally indicate the amount of ground limestone that is necessary to raise your soil to a pH level of 6.5. For best results, work the lime into the soil by tilling it under, as surface-applied lime integrates with the soil at a low rate. To save some time and money, Southern States recommends Solu-Lime, which compared to regular pelleted lime costs less and requires less lime to get the job done. Pick it up in a Southern States near you.


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