Know the pH levels of your soil

July 19, 2008|By BOB KESSLER

We often talk about soil pH, but few people seem to understand why the pH of the soil is important to someone trying to grow fruits and vegetables or maintain a landscape.

Soil pH is important because it effects the availability of soil nutrients. As the soil pH increases, elements such as iron and manganese become less available and elements such as phosphorus become more available. So why is this a problem?

Most plants in our landscape will do well growing in soils in the pH range of 6.0 to 7. The pH scale is a logarithmic scale. That means that if we go from a pH of 6 to 7 then this is 10 times less acidic. If we go from a pH of 7 to a pH of 5 then that is 100 times more acidic. (10 times 10 because each point we pass is a factor of 10 times more acidic).


For instance, an acid-loving plant that wants a soil pH of 4.5 to 5 is in a much more acidic soil than a plant that wants a neutral (7.0) soil. Limestone soil is what is found in our area, so the natural pH will be higher than what most acid-loving plants like.

If you want to grow plants such as blueberries, azaleas and rhododendrons, then you need to use things to make your soil acidic before you plant. For instance, you need to start a year before you actually plant your blueberries on working to lower the soil's pH to the 4.5 to 4.8 range.

This means using peat moss and sulphur or iron sulfate to lower pH in the bed. Put your acid-living plants together so this process will be easier to accomplish. Check your soil pH in the fall with a soil test kit. If it is still too high, add more materials to get it to the right pH range.

Contact your local extension office for soil testing kits.

Farm and Home Safety Day Camp

Children ages 7 to 18 are invited to attend the Farm and Home Safety Day Camp from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 1, at the Chambersburg Rod & Gun Club.

This day camp is designed to address important safety issues on the farm and around the home. Children will learn about hazards and ways to protect themselves by visiting hands-on learning stations. These stations include the following: pesticide safety, fire safety, lawn mower safety, vehicle safety and buckling up, kitchen safety, quarry safety, pond safety, emergency 911 calls and animal safety.

Special activities for the day include a visit from medevac helicopter and a vehicle extraction demonstration by St. Thomas Fire & Rescue personnel. The registration fee is $4, which includes lunch and take-home safety materials. For registration information, call Penn State Cooperative Extension at 717-263-9226. Pre-registration deadline is Friday, July 25.


If you are experiencing another summer of dragging hoses around to water your plants, you may want to switch your landscape to plants that have low-water requirements. This is certainly happening in other parts of our country and some people are doing it in our area, too.

Xeriscaping is the use of non organic mulches and plants, many you may already be using, that have low-water requirements. It can be an alternative landscape that can be very attractive and once the plants are established the plants require little water. Plants used can be herbs, flowers, trees and shrubs. Plants such as coreopsis, daylily, evening primrose, yarrow, sage, lavender, coral bells, Iceland poppy, iris, black-eyed Susans and sedums.

In xeriscape, we plant these with other plants that have the same low-water requirements. Mix these in with trees and shrubs like viburnums, yews, golden rain tree, hedge maple, Japanese zelkova and honey locusts and you have a drought-tolerant landscape.

Xeriscaping might not be for everyone, but if you think it might be something you want to try give us a call and we have Master Gardeners that can help you get started. Call us at 717-263-9226.

Tree of Heaven

The Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is an invasive plant that has moved in our area over the last couple of decades. Ailanthus has leaves that are compound and might remind you of sumac or black walnut. The bark is smooth and gray in color. If you scratch the bark or crush the leaves it will have an offensive odor.

The Tree of Heaven is a tree that does not grow well in shade but will thrive on the edge of existing woods. It does well along roads and interstate highways because it is tolerate of the dust and fumes.

The Tree of Heaven can be a fast growing tree and some people like it as an ornamental tree. However, it has several major problems. First it produces a large amount of seed, which helps it to spread rapidly. If you cut it down it will send up shoots from its roots, so now you have 15 to 20 trees where once you had one. It also can release a material that is toxic to other plants in the area.

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