When you think of pH, you probably think of liquid acids and bases. But soil can be acidic or basic, too. Soil pH, sometimes referred to as soil acidity, can be expressed using the pH scale. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14. Soils with pH above 7 are basic or sweet. Soils with pH below 7 are acidic or sour. A soil with a pH of 7 is neither acidic nor basic, but is neutral.
The pH of soil is an important factor in determining which plants will grow because it controls which nutrients are available for the plants to use. Three primary plant nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium – are required for healthy plant growth. Because plants need them in large quantities, they are called macronutrients. They are the main ingredients of most fertilizers that farmers and gardeners add to their soil. Other nutrients such as iron and manganese are also needed by plants, but only in very small amounts. These nutrients are called micronutrients.
The availability of these nutrients depends not only on the amount but also on the form that is present, on the rate they are released from the soil, and on the pH of the soil. In general, macronutrients are more available in soil with high pH and micronutrients are more available in soil with low pH. Figure 1 shows the effect of pH on the availability of nutrients in the soil.
In this experiment, you will
- Use a pH Sensor to measure the pH of soil samples.
- Identify any nutritional problems plants would have in that soil.