It is a measure of your soil's acidity or alkalinity.
Do you give your garden as much love and attention as you give your best friend?
Yet your garden is not as healthy and productive?
Chances are, your soil may be out of balance.
Each plant in your garden or yard, has an ideal range that it will thrive in. This ideal range varies from plant to plant.
If your garden soil is outside of this ideal range, the vital nutrients and minerals your plants need may become "locked up" in the soil, and the roots are unable to absorb them.
Yards and gardens where building has taken place often has disrupted soil and soil structures. Often dirt from elsewhere is brought in and when this happens, your soil can be way out of whack.
Not only are you dealing with unbalanced soil, but soil compaction from heavy equipment packing it down. (trees will die a slow death from this as oxygen and water can't reach the roots).
Sweet, sour, or bitter?
These are common terms to describe soil pH.
Sweet soil is the mid or neutral range of 7.0, or ideal levels for most plants.
Sour soils are acidic, with a level below 7.0. The lower the number, the more acid it is. Some plants prefer a slightly acidic soil.
Bitter is used to describe alkaline soils or soil with a pH above 7.0
Why do nutrients get "locked up" in the soil?
The mid range of the scale is the optimal range for bacterial growth to promote decomposition, a process that releases nutrients and minerals, making them available to your plants.
Mid range is also the ideal range for growth of soil microorganisms that convert nitrogen in the air into a form that your plants can use.
Outside of the ideal range, both processes are increasingly inhibited.
Side Bar: Don't forget the houseplants. The soil in your pots and containers may not be ideal. You'll never know until you test them.
Testing your soil (and nutrient levels, too) should be a routine task for gardeners. It is also a fun task if you test it yourself.
You can purchase a testing kit, or have your soil tested at a quality garden center or allow your county agent to test your soil.
Even if your garden has been productive over the years, soil testing can be beneficial. Soil can get out of balance for a number of reasons. Most often, using inorganic fertilizers will make your soil more acidic over time.
Adding amendments to the soil can also alter your soil all the way around. If you do not test your soil occasionally, you are passing by the opportunity to maximize your plants' potential in the size, health and quality of flowers, vegetables and fruits.
Raising and lowering pH:
If your soil is acidic, you will want to increase soil pH.
Lime is most commonly used. It is readily available in your local garden store.
To lower the level of alkaline soils, compost and manures are the best materials to use.
Changing your soil takes time. It is best to work on your soils' in the fall or early spring. Planting time is too late.