Recently, a customer shared with me a story that I believe speaks volumes to the underappreciated nature of pH and how it affects turf grass.
My customer met the owner of a small commercial property to discuss a maintenance opportunity. The property had been neglected for two years, and it was high time to fix the troubled lawn.
He placed a pH tester in the ground and began to walk the property. The owner asked what the tester was for, and my customer said, “I’m going to test the pH of your soil.”
As they set across the property discussing various issues to be addressed, the little pH tester worked its magic.
“Well, your pH is roughly 5.3. The first thing I would like to do is put down some Pro-Cal,” my customer said. “It’s an enriched lime product that will quickly raise your pH.”
He added, “I would also recommend a full soil analysis, because with a pH this low we should find out if we have nutrient deficiencies or if a low pH is the major cause of your turf issues.”
To his surprise and mine, the owner said, “I’ve had four other contractors out here and not one of them checked the pH. Why is it important?”
My customer shared these facts:
pH is vital for a healthy soil environment
It allows nutrients to be freed and readily available for consumption by the roots. All plants have a specific pH range that they feel comfortable in.
Turf grass likes to be in the range of 6.5 to 7.0, which represents a neutral to slightly acidic soil. Some turf grasses, particularly cool season turf grasses, can get by with slightly more acidic conditions—in the range of 6.2 to 6.8.
Many conditions affect pH
Here in the Pacific Northwest, our soil pH is constantly bombarded by acidic rain, which has a pH somewhere near 4.5. With a cool and wet autumn and winter climate, many here deal with moss, and combat it with yearly applications of ferrous sulfate. Ferrous sulfate drives down pH even further, as do fertilizers that are high in nitrogen.
Other factors can play a role as well. Conifer trees will reduce the pH of soil under and near the tree where the needles drop to the ground. Other climates will experience the opposite. In these areas, the fight isn’t to make soils less acidic, but instead to lower pH from alkaline conditions.
Improper pH levels can cost you money
Many people are not aware of the money they throw away due to improper pH levels every time they apply fertilizers. A pH as low as 5.3 can cause nearly 50 percent of the fertilizer you apply to end up wasted.
Fertilizers designed for slow release and long durations will see these durations reduced drastically. A low pH will generally affect the uptake of major nutrients; a high pH will cause minor and micro nutrient issues.
When one does nothing to address the pH of soil, applying high-nutrient fertilizers will be costly and counterproductive to the overall health of the soil.
Lime and enriched lime products are vital for raising pH
Enriched lime is relatively new in the industry and incredibly effective. Using organic carbolic acid, it breaks down surface tension in the soil. Enriched lime products gather available calcium and other nutrients for the root zone to use. Results appear in as little as six to eight weeks rather than four to six months for standard lime applications.
The application of lime is limited to approximately 50 lbs per 1,000 square feet per season, or 12 lbs per 1,000 square feet for enriched lime. Any more than these rates is just throwing away money and resources, and will not raise the pH further.
While we all want instant fixes, a pH near 5.3 will take a couple of years to bring back to acceptable levels. While application of lime is acceptable any time of year, fall applications will generally give the best results when dealing with standard lime products.
Okay, those were not the exact words my customer shared. But he did cover the basics with his potential client.
The owner simply said, “All right. You know your stuff. Let’s do it.”
Armed with a little knowledge, he was able to grow his business and secure a contract because he was doing something the competition wasn’t. He was listening to his newfound business partner, pH.