What Is Soil pH and What Does It Mean for Your Trees?
Soil pH measures how many hydrogen ions are in your soil. High amounts of ions mean a lower pH and more acidic soil. Alkaline or basic soil has fewer ions and a higher pH number. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14, with seven indicating neutral pH. A rating of less than seven is acidic, while a level above seven is alkaline.
But what does all this have to do with your trees?
How Does Soil pH Affect Plant Growth?
Different plants thrive in different conditions, including varying soil pH levels for trees. For example, pines, spruce, and dogwoods all prefer acidic soil. Yellowwoods, linden trees, and elms, on the other hand, tolerate alkaline soil much better.
If you plant trees in the wrong soil conditions, they won't grow as vibrantly and may even die. The various nutrients that trees need to grow become unavailable at differing pH levels. The ground may not have the correct nutrients if your soil pH is high or low. Very acidic soils are more likely to contain heavy metals, which may be toxic to your trees in large quantities. In contrast, very alkaline soils may have insufficient iron and manganese levels. The ideal soil pH for trees sits between six and seven for the best growth in most species.
What Happens When Soil pH Is High?
When soil pH exceeds 7.5, many essential nutrients aren’t available in sufficient quantities. Iron, manganese, phosphorus, and magnesium become unavailable to the plant as the pH climbs. Nutrient deficiencies in alkaline soil often cause stem dieback, reduced growth, and yellowing leaves or needles.
What Happens When Soil pH Is Low?
Many trees prefer acidic soils to basic, but there is a threshold below which most trees won’t grow. Trees will have trouble absorbing nutrients at pH levels below 6 in alkaline-tolerant plants and 4.5 in acid-loving plants. You may notice yellowing leaves, halted or stunted growth, lack of flowers and fruits, and fragile stems.
How Is pH Measured in Soil?
You're right if you notice a lot of overlap between the signs of acidic and alkaline soil. This overlap makes it hard to determine the pH of soil based on plant reactions, making soil testing vital for understanding your soil health.
Professionals can use a pH meter to measure the soil around your home. Some home test kits use color-changing dyes to determine the pH of acidic soil or basic soil. However, they're less accurate than professional pH meters. Often, soil scientists will gather samples from several parts of your yard to test the spread of pH across your property.
How Do You Fix Acidic or Alkaline Soil pH?
Your best option is to schedule a soil test with Monster Tree Service before planting and choose trees that will thrive at the ground’s natural soil acidity. However, we can recommend amendments to help struggling trees, especially from a sudden change in pH. Rain can leech away nutrients or carry in new elements in the runoff, and decaying organic matter like leaves, root systems, fertilizers, or animals can change pH.
If you need to keep up a new pH over months or years, our Soil Health Program can help you maintain a new level of acidity. Our experts can increase soil pH or lower it and make sure the ground around your trees maintains the necessary acidity levels long-term.
Raising or lowering soil pH can help certain plants grow, though it can be hard to maintain over a long period, especially by yourself. While there are DIY methods that may help with acidic soil, they are not guaranteed to work and could harm or even kill your trees and other plants if used incorrectly. We recommend working with a professional if you are experiencing issues with acidic soil.
Finding and Amending Your Soil pH with Help from Tree Experts
You don’t have to worry about trying to do home science in your yard: just call the professionals at Monster Tree Service! We can help you achieve the proper soil pH for fruit trees, your favorite oaks and maples, the pine tree in the corner, and more. When you schedule a soil test, we'll tell you your soil's pH and nutrient levels. Then, we'll recommend the best amendments and fertilizers to get your yard's acidity where it needs to be for optimal tree health. Call (888) 744-0155 to schedule an appointment or request an estimate online.