Soil balance

To grow plants successfully you need to ensure that the soil has the appropriate chemical balance. Some plants prefer acidic soil; others prefer alkaline. You can determine the acidity/alkalinity levels of your soil with a simple test. If necessary, you can also correct overly acidic soil by adding lime.
In addition to understanding the structure of the soil, you need to know its level of acidity or alkalinity. This is determined by the lime (officially calcium) content of the soil, and is known as the pH. It not only affects the type of plants that you can grow in your garden, but also has an effect on the structure of the soil itself. Lime improves the struc¬ture of clay soils by causing the soil particles to stick together in clumps, so that the soil becomes lighter and easier to work. If you have heavy clay soil, which tends to be acidic, it is a good idea to add lime to it to improve its composi¬tion, as well as to increase the range of edible plants that will grow well in your garden.
Look around your area to see what plants are growing in neigh¬boring gardens, as they will help you to work out the likely chem¬ical balance of the soil in your garden. Heathers (Calluna and Erica) and rhododendrons need an acidic environment in order to thrive, and if they are growing in or near to your garden this indicates that the soil is acidic. Poppies and trees such as ash (Fraxinus) and beech {Fagus) prefer soil that has a more alkaline pH, as do most members of the pea (Lathyrus) family.
The proliferation of certain weeds is often an indicator of the nutrient content, too, so check what is growing before removing them. Nettles enjoy living in a soil that is high in phosphorus, while clover prefers soil that is low in nitrogen.
To achieve a more accurate assessment of the chemical balance, you need to test your soil. There are special test kits available that contain a chemical solution which changes color when soil is added, according to the level of acidity or alkalinity. A neutral (or average soil) has a pH value of 7. Soils with a higher pi1 (on a scale measuring up to 14) are alkaline. Those with a pH below 7 are acidic. The easiest growing conditions are those in which the ph of the soil falls somewhere between 5.5 and 7.5.
Balancing your soil lo reduce the acidity of the soil, you can add lime to it. Although this may possibly be worth doing if you are attempting to grow certain vegetables that will only perform well in a more alkaline soil, for ornamental plants it is probably easier to live with the limitations of the soil you have and grow acid-loving plants. For the vegetable garden, you can apply ordinary lime (calcium carbonate). Ideally, it should be added to the soil well in advance of planting (therelore , fall IN the best time for the vegetable garden, as most planting is done in spring), and according to the manufacturer’s instructions. At least six months should be left clear between liming and manuring, as the lime will react with the manure. Sandy soils will need lighter applications, and clay soils will need the heaviest applications. The quantity depends on the degree of alka¬linity you are aiming to achieve: 5 lb. of lime spread over 100 ft2, will increase the pi 1 value by around 75 percent.
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