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The pH scale goes from 0 very acidic to 14 basic with pH 7 being neutral. Soil can be acid, neutral or alkaline. Most plants prefer a pH range from 5.
Nevertheless, every plant has a target for optimum growth. For example, fungi prefer acidic conditions whereas most bacteria, especially those supplying nutrients to the plants, have a preference for moderately acidic or slightly alkaline soils. In fact, in strongly acidic conditions, nitrogen fixing and the mineralisation of vegetable residual is reduced.
Plants absorb the nutrients dissolved in the soil water and the nutrient solubility depends largely on the pH value. Hence, the availability of elements is different at varying pH levels. Each plant needs elements in different qualities and this is the reason why each plant requires a particular range of pH to optimise its growth.
For example, iron, copper and manganese are not soluble in an alkaline environment. This means that plants needs these elements should theoretically be in an acidic type of soil. Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulphur, on the other hand, are readily available in a pH range close to neutrality. Abnormal pH values may increase the concentration of toxic elements for plants. For example, a plant may not tolerate an excess of aluminium ions that may increase under acidic conditions.
When pH values are too far from neutral conditions a less permeable and more compact soil may result. Different naturally occurring minerals may affect soil pH in the same way.
Direct Soil Measurement pH Portable Meter