The pH Scale

The term pH in ph scale is derived from the words 'potential of hydrogen'. In effect, the ph scale is used to measure the precise extent of a substance's acidic or alkaline (base) nature. The perception of the pH scale was introduced by a Danish chemist named S. P. L. Sørensen way back in 1909. The pH scale varies from 0 to 14 and any substance having a ph of 7 is considered to be neutral. While if the pH of a substance is lower than 7, it is said to be acidic, if the pH is higher than 7, it is regarded as an alkaline. Therefore, the pH scale helps us to differentiate between acidic and alkaline substances.

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While uncontaminated water is considered to be neutral, but it turns either acidic or alkaline when different chemicals are dissolved or added with it. Interestingly enough, even as a number of people relate corrosion to acidity, several organizations term the pH of 0-2 as well as 11.5-14 as acidic.

Usually, litmus paper with a plain red/ blue color is used to signify if a solution is acidic or alkaline in nature. However, there are times when we may require especially fine-tuned answers. For instance, with a view to locate the similarity point in acid-base titration, it is important to select the correct indicator for obtaining appropriate results. In fact, indicators like Bromthymol blue, methyl violet and Alizarin yellow possess a highly precise group of color reaction which make it possible to correspond with the equivalence point.

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There are several plants, such as the red cabbage, that act as natural pH pointers. Many of you may have witnessed this while working in your kitchen. In addition, you may often find that the soil pH is demonstrated by some plants growing in your garden. In fact, the soil pH is one of crucial aspects that establishes the success or failure of any gardening project. It has been found that usually plants grow best in soils that have an almost neutral pH, while there are specific plants, such as the azaleas and blueberries that require acidic soils for better growth. Here is a simple gardening trick that enables one to promote the blooming of blue or pink hydrangea flowers from the same plants just by modifying the soil pH levels. If you have a soil having a pH of 5.5 or less, the flowers will have a blue hue, while if the pH of the soil is 6.5 or more, the blossoms will be pink colored. However, soil having a pH between 5.5 and 6.5 is likely to make the plants produce purple flowers - something like a blend of blue and pink.

Apart from gardening and agriculture, the pH of various substances is also of importance in other subjects. The precise pH is imperative in deciding the excellence of wine - it is best measured by utilizing a pH meter. While the pH of wine varies between 2.9 and 4.2, wine having an approximate pH of 3.0 to 3.5 is said to be of superior quality. However, it is important to note that somewhat different figures are quoted by different wine brewers in this regard. In addition, the pH scale is also the calculation made use of in deciding if paper is suitable for being described as 'acid free'.

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Soil pH level and nourishment for plant

It is a well known fact that apart from the atmosphere from where plants absorb sunlight, oxygen and carbon dioxide, they obtain majority of their nourishments from the soil. Precisely speaking, the plants require 17 different types of nutrients and of these 14 are obtained from the soil. Nevertheless, it is important to note that plants cannot absorb these nutrients or essential minerals from the soil directly and they need to be liquefied in the soil solution before they are able to soak up the nutrients. It has been found that most of these minerals vital for the growth and sustenance of the plants dissolve quite easily in neutral or somewhat acidic soils. However, in case the soil is excessive acidic, the minerals dissolved in it may augment the intensity of metallic ions to the extent of becoming toxic. Alternatively, if the soil is excessive alkaline in nature, it may result in plants suffering from mineral deficiencies since the minerals are incapable of dissolving in too alkaline soils. Apart from having an influence on the dissolvability of minerals, the soil pH also has an impact on the microorganisms that sustain in the soil that disintegrate the organic substances. It is best to have a soil pH level between 5.5 and 7.5 as this will help in averting such hitches with the growth and sustenance of the plants.

It may be mentioned here that most herbs grow best in a little acidic or slightly neutral soils that have a pH between 6.2 and 7.2. As mentioned earlier in this article, the method of determining the acidity or alkalinity of any soil is done by calculating the soil on a scale ranging from zero and 14 and the rankings are denoted as 'pH' - actually meaning 'parts of hydrogen' or 'potential of hydrogen'. The intensity of hydrogen ions in soil is a gauge to find the acidic or alkaline nature of a particular soil sample. It is important to note that the fundamental geological substratum also has a great impact on the pH of soil and it is virtually not possible to alter or enduringly transform this basic condition. While lime has the ability to increase the pH level of soil, sulfur can reduce it. However, both these are short-term measures that will last for a short period - for one growing season of the plants. While it is comparatively simple to provisionally increase the soil pH of an acidic soil by adding lime to it during spring, decreasing the pH level of an alkaline soil temporarily by adding sulfur is not an easy task.

The solitary effectual technique that may be used to make the pH of an alkaline soil palliative is by addition of large quantities of organic substance to the soil each year. These organic substances may include garden compost, leaves, rotted animal manure, pine needles and cones, peat moss, crushed twigs and even shredded barks of trees. Adding organic materials to an alkaline soil annually will serve as a buffering actions or substance that will help to maintain the pH and consequently make the alkaline soil more tolerable to the plants. While many people usually get a small sample of the soil from their garden examined by any soil testing service provider, it is not required to learn about the pH of your soil. Irrespective of whether the soil is acidic, alkaline or neutral in character, the best thing to do is to add substantial amounts of organic materials to it every year to make it more acceptable for the plants. You may dig the soil and put in the organic substances or alternatively lay it as mulch on the surface of the soil.

Below is a rating of the different soil pH levels along with a description of the growth and sustainability of the plants in each soil pH type. Keeping this chart handy will help you when you undertake any gardening or cultivation venture.

  • pH 4.0 - Very acidic soil that does not allow plants to grow.
  • pH 5.0 - Potently acidic soil that allow ericaceous plant or a group of evergreen bushes and small trees including the heath, heather, arbutus, azalea, blueberry and rhododendron that require low pH acidic soil to soak in nutrients.
  • pH 6.0 - Reasonably acidic soil that allows majority of the plants to grow.
  • pH 6.5 - Somewhat acidic soil that is perfect for the growth and sustenance of all garden plants, including roses.
  • pH 7.0 - Neutral soil that enables almost all varieties of garden plants to grow and sustain.
  • pH 7.5 - Somewhat alkaline in nature, but enables majority of the garden plants to grow and flourish.
  • pH 8.0 - Potently alkaline soil that allows only calcareous plants like grasses and maples to grow as they have a preference for a high pH alkaline soil.
  • pH 9.0 - Extremely alkaline soil that does not allow any type of plant to grow.

Measurement of soil pH

Determining the pH of soil is a simple task. You may use a pH meter or indicator dyes to gauge the pH of any soil. In fact, majority of the gardeners prefer using indicator dyes to a pH meter since the former is comparatively inexpensive. Nevertheless, if one desires to undertake plenty of soil pH tests, finally it would be wise to buy and use a pH meter as it would prove to be less costly in due course. When indicator dyes are used to determine the soil pH, the samples of soil gets soaked with dye. In fact, the color of the sample will specify the pH of the soil tested. It has been found that unlike the pH meter, the indicator dyes do not always provide accurate results and hence, it may be essential to test a number of samples to be certain regarding the soil pH.

If you find that the plants in your garden are under pressure for growth and survival, it would be a better idea to test the pH of your soil yourself. Many people are of the view that the soil pH level does not have much significance in gardening or cultivation, but they are certainly mistaken. The fact is that the pH level of the soil is of utmost importance for the growth and survival of plants. For instance, even if you continue to add fertilizers to the soil on a regular basis, they will not be available to the plants if the soil pH level is not accurate.

Modifying the soil pH level

When plants are grown in containers or pots, it is much easy to control or influence the soil pH levels in them. This is primarily owing to the fact that the quality of the soil in the containers or pots completely depends on what the gardener puts into them. Normally, if you desire to increase the soil pH level or make the soil in the container more alkaline, you simply need to add sufficient amount of lime to the soil. On the other hand, if you want to decrease the soil pH level or make the soil in the container more acidic, just add appropriate amounts of sulfur. In fact, the job is much easier considering the fact that you are able to buy lime and sulfur that are meant for use in gardens and are friendly to the plants from the farmer's supply store or your neighbourhood garden center.


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