The Art of Acidity

The Art of Acidity

September 7, 2022

Here it comes - preachy stuff on the importance of pH; something beginner growers don’t always feel comfortable messing with, while at the same time their more expierienced counterparts monitor on a frequent basis. “pH” literally means “a number between 0-14 that indicates if a chemical is an acid, or base”, and, it’s a noun - meaning it’s an actual thing, rather than an abbreviation. The “p” comes from the Germen Potenz, meaning power - and the H is the symbol for hydrogen.

If you’re growing in soil, a good pH ranges from 6.3 to 6.8, coco should be 5.8-5.9, and pure hydro can vary greatly - but as long as your reservoir stablizes at around 5.6-5.8, you’re good to go.  Why the specific numbers for special growing medium? Nutrients are broken down best by the roots at varying pH levels - and what the plant is grown in will make a difference in the type of root structure the plant utilize; and therefore the uptake will differ as well. 

Here’s the scary part for those of you who aren’t monitoring your pH - if you get too high or too low on the scale, your plant will not get the right amount of nutrients and beneficials - which stunts growth, limits the fruit, and can even kill the plant. Leaves are a red light indicator of pH balance problems; but once it gets to that point you better act quickly or it may be too late.

Years ago I remember sitting in my living room watching Monty Python, and getting blindsided with terrible thought: did I use pH down in place of my CalMag tonight? Meaning, did I just use 20x the needed adjustment to my pH balance rather than supplementing my herbs with their Calcium/Magnesium regiment? 

Of course, I had indeed. I spent the next couple hours flushing my entire garden; wondering why I had suddenly remembered my mistake - but thankful nonetheless.  You see, a quart of General Hydroponics pH Down used to be the exact color and shape as Botanicare’s CalMag + and while one is clear, and the other opaque - I was too distracted to focus on what I was doing and nearly paid the price.

And you’re right, I didn’t check the pH one last time - I was a little too comfortable with my recipe - which is why I recommend always double checking your ingredient list as you add them in and of course, giving it a final pH check at the end.

1. If you want to check the pH of your soil, don’t get those meters that you push down into your pot that look like a big metal stake with an analogue gauge on the end. Checking the physical soil pH after the fact is pretty useless, unless you’re checking the runoff - which I highly recommend doing anyway, but the best method is pH-correcting you nutrient solution everytime.

2. Noob soil growers - buy those cheap pH test strips. Before you spend the big bucks on the handheld meters, make sure that you like growing and that well, you’re good at it. They’re not as accurate, but they’ll give you a good ballpark which will be good enough for a soil grow.

3. The next phase is the handhelds - and they are a must have if you’re growing with hydroponics, where pH balance problems will affect the plant much, much quicker.  I’ve always preferred the dual function ones - like the Oakton PH/TDS/Temp meter (formerly Eutech) - which I have used for years and years.  It doesn’t need frequent calibration, is waterproof, and just makes an all-around great piece of equipment.

Now get out there and pH!