Testing your soil

If you are planning a new garden or if you have planted shrubs in the past which have not done particularly well it might be worth stopping and taking a look at the PH level of the soil in your garden. The PH level of soil is an indication of how acid or alkaline the conditions in your garden are. The PH rating is placed on a scale of one to fourteen, with lower numbers on this scale represent acidic soils while a higher number suggests that your soil is more alkaline. By finding out the PH level of your soil you should be better able to plan any future planting schemes with suitable plants in mind.
   To get an idea of the PH of the soil in your garden it will be necessary to invest in a soil testing kit. These kits can be found in most garden centres and hardware shops and range in price from a couple of euros up, depending on how sophisticated a test you wish to carry out. Most of these tests are very easy to use and simply require you to mix some of the soil from your garden with water and an indicator chemical. This mixture should then change colour and by matching this colour with the chart provided you should get an idea of your PH level. When doing these tests it is always worth taking a couple of soil samples from different parts of your garden to make sure that you get an even reading.
   When you get the results of your PH test it is then time to decide what to do with your garden. The Ph of your soil is related to the type of bedrock which lies underneath and because of this relationship it is usually impossible permanently change the PH of the soil. While some plants will not survive in hostile territory there are a number of steps that you can take to allow you to grow the plants of your dreams despite the soil conditions not being suitable. These steps include growing plants in containers or building raised beds in your garden and filling these with soil of the desired PH. It is also possible to temporarily change the PH of soil in particular areas of your garden by adding chemicals such as lime or sulphur, but these changes tend to be short lived and need regular topping up. Instead of wasting a lot of time and money trying to change your gardens PH it is generally better plan your garden around your soil and to stick to the kind of plants that you know will thrive.

Below is a short list of some common garden plants and the soil conditions they like:

Acid Soild (Low PH) Alkaline Soil (High PH)
  • Rhododendrons
  • Pieris
  • Heathers
  • Azaleas
  • Camellias
  • Carnations
  • Wallflowers
  • Potentilla
  • Lilac
  • Wisteria
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