The scoop on your soil: How sweet is it?

The Standard Journal - - LIFESTYLE - By Ricky Ens­ley Polk County Ex­ten­sion Co­or­di­na­tor

How sweet is the soil around your home? If you do not know, you need to find out. How­ever, do not go out and taste a spoon­ful — have it tested by bring­ing a sam­ple to the Polk County Ex­ten­sion Of­fice.

“Sweet” soil is sim­ply soil that is only slightly acid.

The pH is one of the most im­por­tant things to know about your soil. It shows how acid or sweet your soil is. The lower the num­ber, the more acidic is the soil.

It is im­por­tant to know your soil’s pH be­cause plants have a cer­tain pH level at which the nu­tri­ents in the soil are most avail­able to them.

If the pH of your soil is too low or too high, your gar­den and flower plants, shrubs and fruit trees could be starv­ing for those nu­tri­ents, even if they are right there in the soil.

So what is the best pH? It all de­pends on the type of plants that you are try­ing to grow. Take cen­tipede grass, for ex­am­ple. The pH for good cen­tipede growth is 5.5, al­though it will tol­er­ate a pH be­low 5.0.

Other grasses, like fes­cue, zoysia, and Ber­muda grass need a higher pH, some­where around 6.0. Veg­etable gar­dens and most flow­ers and shrubs grow best at a pH of 6.0 to 6.5. Acid-lov­ing plants, like aza­leas and blue­ber­ries, how­ever, grow best at a lower soil pH, 5.5 to 6.0.

If you find you have a low pH, add dolomitic or agri­cul­tural lime. Dolomitic lime­stone con­tains both cal­cium and mag­ne­sium, which cor­rects the soil pH and helps plants in pro­duc­ing healthy, vig­or­ous growth. For­tu­nately, that may be the cheap­est thing your soil needs. So, what­ever plants you have, whether they are fruit trees, shrubs, veg­eta­bles, for­ages, or turf, you will not know if you need to add lime to your soil, or how much lime to add, if you don’t know your soils pH. So you need to test your soil oc­ca­sion­ally to know its pH.

Take a soil sam­ple that is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the area. To do that, get sam­ples from 10 to 15 spots. You need to go down from 3 to 4 inches deep for each area or type of plant that you wish to test, for ex­am­ple, your lawn or gar­den or flowerbeds.

Then af­ter thor­oughly mix­ing the 10 to 15 sam­ples from your lawn area, for in­stance, then re­move and place a pint or about one cup of soil for test­ing in one of our spe­cial soil test bags.

Bring your soil sam­ples to the Polk County Ex­ten­sion of­fice and we will mail your sam­ples to the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia’s Soil Test­ing Lab in Athens. We should your test re­sults back in about 7 — 10 days.

If you have ques­tions about soil test­ing, con­tact the Polk County Ex­ten­sion of­fice by phone at 770-749-2142, or by email at

Ricky Ens­ley

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