Farm & Ranch

Using a pH Tester Kit for Your Property

It’s officially spring. We’re excited about that for several reasons. For starters, the snow, in most parts of the country, is fading fast and we’re finally getting longer, warmer days.

As land managers, the spring thaw also means it’s time to get food plots started that will provide whitetail herds with all the nutrients they’ll need until the summer. While it’s tempting to jump straight into planting, you must first consider the most crucial part to crafting a successful food plot, and that’s testing the pH level of your soil. 

Using a pH tester kit for your property will give you clear answers about the acidity or alkalinity of the soil and whether or not it’s well-suited for growing the plants you want. Many landowners may be surprised to find out their soil has been either too basic or, more likely, too acidic all along, which is why they have poor-growing plants.

If you’ve never tested pH levels, it doesn’t require any technical skills. You’ll simply put some dirt into a container and ship it to a lab. Or, test your own by following a few instructions. The results will indicate if you need to raise or lower your soil’s pH levels. Then, after you’ve made the proper adjustments, you can get right to planting.

What are PH Levels

The acidity or alkalinity of soil is measured in pH units, a scale that runs from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is neutral. The lower the number the more acidic the soil is, and the higher the number, the more basic. Generally, soils can range from 3 (highly acidic) to 10. There are several factors that determine the pH level of dirt, including the plants already present and average rainfall.

The pH levels in soil have a tremendous impact on the health of plants. Before nutrients in the ground can be absorbed by plants they need to be dissolved. Normally, they’re less soluble in acidic and basic soils. Some of the most important nutrients for plants are nitrogen (gives plants a deep green), phosphorous (flower productivity) and potassium (strong stems and roots).

Too much acidity can be toxic to plants, while on the other end of the spectrum, they may get too little nutrients. Usually, different vegetation requires varying pH levels for optimum growth, but most plants do well with slightly acidic soil of around 6 to a neutral reading of 7. Microorganisms and worms, which positively impact plant health, also thrive under slightly acidic soil.

A pH tester kit for your property will tell you if your soil is well-suited to planting. This is a crucial step to consider. 

How to Test PH Levels

Knowing pH levels helps you choose what supplements to add, if any, before planting. With the soil test kit from the Whitetail Institute of North America, you collect the sample from your property and ship it to a lab. They’ll interpret the results and provide direction on what the next step is. You can also collect dirt and take it for testing to your local Ag store or USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service office. Do-it-yourself kits are available, like the Antler King test kit. Simply sift the dirt into the provided container, follow instructions and you’ll get a pH reading that will tell you much lime, if any, you’ll need to apply.

Should you choose to send it off, results from the Whitetail Institute are available in about 24 hours after they receive the sample, while over-the-counter tests usually provide them within minutes. No matter the method you choose, ensure you take dirt from several locations within the plot to give a more accurate reading of the entire area you’re designating as a seed bed.

Interpreting Results

If the results show too much acidity, you’ll want to add lime, a mineral high in calcium, to the soil to raise the pH level closer to that 6 or 7 range. If the reading is basic, add sulfur compounds to lower the pH. This will help to dissolve the nutrients in the dirt and make it easier for plants to use them. Lab results will specify how many pounds of which mineral per acre is needed.

After you’ve added a compound, till or disc the soil so that it permeates beyond the top layer. It takes the mineral a few weeks to alter the pH levels in the ground, so be sure this is done well in advance of planting your food plot. Pelletized lime is found at most garden stores and can be good for a small food plot. For larger surface areas, you’ll need ag lime, available at your local co-op, who will spread large loads for you.

Once your food plot’s pH levels are optimum, you can begin all the necessary work to grow plants for your herd. Without knowing your soil’s pH, all of your fertilizing, tilling and planting may be in vain. This year, be sure your hard work pays off with a healthy, bountiful food plot.

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