Did you know, the best time to test your soil and adjust its pH level is in the fall, NOT in the spring! Any amendments you add to your soil can take up to 6 months to work their magic (i.e., lime or sulfur).
Cornell University Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners are hosting fall pH clinics starting Sept. 12th.
Your soil pH number is linked to how vigorously your plants will grow. Most gardens flourish in the range of 6.0-7.0, slightly acidic to neutral. If you are lucky enough to be within this range, you won’t have to add lime or sulfur to your soils. Many soils in Allegany County range from the mid to high 5.0’s (slightly acidic); the parent materials our soil is made from influences this number. This means soils that have not had amendments, (such as compost, leaves, lawn clippings, etc.), routinely added may require an addition of lime to meet the minimal neutral pH.
pH also affects what nutrients the plant can take up in its’ roots. When pH is high (over 7.0) iron, manganese, copper and zinc in the soil become unavailable to plants. Conversely, when pH is low (below 6.0) calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium become unavailable. The nutrient may still be in the soil, however it is bound up in the soil due to the pH and the plant cannot use it.
Have your soil tested for free to see if you need to add lime or sulfur to adjust the pH and see your garden respond next year! Limit of 2 soil samples per person. Beyond 2 samples there is a $3.00 fee per sample.
Instructions for Taking a Soil Sample for the pH Clinic
1.First determine how many samples to take. You need a separate sample from your flower beds and a different sample from your lawn; you wouldn’t mix all of these areas together.
2.Each soil sample is comprised of 5 to 10 individual samples obtained by walking back and forth diagonally across the area and randomly choosing where to place your shovel.
3.Use a trowel or shovel to dig a small hole to the desired depth (6-8”). Remove a slice of soil from the entire side of the hole you made and place this in a clean plastic container after removing any grass, stones, or roots.
4.Repeat this procedure at each of the 5 to 10 random spots and place the soil from these spots in the same container.
5.Mix the soil thoroughly in the bucket; wearing clean gloves will reduce contamination of the soil sample.
6.Next remove 1 cup of soil from your container and place this in a plastic bag; a Ziploc bag works fine. If the soil sample is overly moist, allow it to dry a few days. Secure the bag. This is your soil sample for that area.
7.Mark the outside of the bag with some type of identification (i.e. #1, #2, or “A”, “B”, or “East”, “West”, Upper Garden, Perennial Flowerbed, etc.).Keep the identification simple and something you will remember.
Repeat this entire procedure for each additional garden, landscape bed, lawn, etc. for up to two free samples.
For more information visit Cornell’s gardening guidance page: Cornell Guidance Food Garden
Last updated August 20, 2021