Many plants are extremely dependent upon you maintaining the acidity or alkalinity of your soil. Hydrangeas for example are extremely difficult to grow if one does not understand how to maintain a proper pH level for this plant.
What is a pH level?
The pH level of soil is a measurement from 0 (being very acidic) to 14 (being extremely alkaline) and soil is said to be neutral if it has the pH level of 7. pH levels in soil change depending on the inorganic and organic matter being discharged either naturally, such as through leaves decomposing into the soil, or through man made ways like pollution in the air effecting rainwater.
Knowing your soil’s pH level is extremely important because each plant depends on a certain level of acidity or alkalinity to thrive. If the roots of your plants do not receive the proper pH level in the soil they may be unable to soak up essential minerals and nutrients, which can cause your plants to cease growing, and most likely die. Most plants prefer neutral soil to slightly acidic soil, but there are a few, such as the hydrangea that only thrive in very acidic soil.
Testing your soil
There are two ways to test your soil, one is to hire private laboratories to come to your home and take samples of your soil, the other is by purchasing do-it-yourself soil test kits (which can be purchased at most garden stores).
Hiring a lab to take soil samples is as easy as finding your nearest soil testing lab and making an appointment for someone to come and take samples from your yard. The fee for this service usually depends on how extensive the soil sample is and results of the test should be expected within a few weeks.
To test the soil yourself with the help of at home soil test kits you need to first stake out the areas you feel will most likely help you get a clear idea of the levels of pH. The best way to do this is to take samples from the corners and the center of your yard, or garden. Other areas also need to be sampled such as underneath trees, in open sunny areas of the garden, hilly areas, and areas that collect more water.
Next make sure the soil is slightly wet before sampling. Then, using a clean trowel or other such utensil dig up soil about 2-4 inches below the surface. Try to ensure no contamination occurs while collecting soil samples, due to the high sensitivity of this test dirty instruments can change the true pH levels of the soil if you are not careful.
Samples should then be put into clearly marked containers according to where you dug up the samples in your garden (for example label container “under tree” if sample was dug up there), this way there will be no confusion as to where samples where take from.
Finally, follow the instructions of your soil test kit on how to finish testing the soil you exhumed from your garden.